LONDON — The question was pointed. The answer, even more so.
Wasn't he ultimately responsible, as chairman of media giant News Corp., for the phone-hacking scandal that has shaken his global empire to the core?
"Nope," answered Rupert Murdoch, sounding almost surprised anyone would think so.
The Australian-born media mogul described it as the "most humble day of my life." But his conclusions during an afternoon of grilling by British lawmakers Tuesday in the shadow of London's Big Ben were anything but.
Summoned to give evidence before Parliament, Murdoch tried to undo some of the damage caused by a newspaper debacle that has spread to politicians and the police, morphing into one of the worst national crises in recent British memory.
At times vague and frail-looking, at others pugnacious and curt, Murdoch denied any knowledge of rampant cell phone-hacking by the News of the World. His son James, called to appear with him, did the same in a sometimes-stumbling performance. And even as questioners tried to get him to accept some responsibility for what happened, the 80-year-old billionaire declared he was "the best person" to clean up the mess.
In the end, after three hours of sparring, neither side of the table in the staid committee room seemed to land a knockout punch. The person who came closest was Murdoch's wife, Wendi, who sprang from her chair behind her husband to smack an activist as he hurled shaving cream onto her husband.
"Mr. Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook," lawmaker Tom Watson said, in a rare moment of levity in the proceedings. (For the record, she swung with her right arm.)
The packed session had been hotly anticipated since Murdoch and his son were summoned last Thursday to give evidence before Parliament. Analysts expected it to be the most-watched parliamentary committee hearing in history.
For the Murdochs, it was a chance to make a public atonement for the allegations that the News of the World illegally accessed the private voicemails of potentially thousands of people, including not just celebrities and political bigwigs but also murder victims and fallen soldiers. In response to a public outcry, Murdoch shut down the News of the World a week and a half ago.