The News Corp. chief tells Britain’s Parliament that people he trusted let him down. Neither side appears to gain much ground.
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 cellphone 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 in back of 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 Thursday to give evidence before Parliament. Analysts expected it to be the most-watched parliamentary committee hearing in history. FULL STORY
the story just keeps getting better…
THR reports — Meet Christopher Tarnovsky, a former U.S.-based hacker who once made his living under the employ of one of Rupert Murdoch‘s companies.
About 15 years ago, Tarnovsky helped DirecTV gain a top place as a leading satellite TV provider by working with the NDS Group – a digital rights firm owned in large part by News Corp. — to beat other hackers who were attempting to crack smart cards used to protect pay TV. Along the way, Tarnovsky got caught up in a drama that would eventually lead to a $1 billion lawsuit by some of Murdoch’s competitors, who accused Tarnovsky and his employer of sabatoge.
If you’ve never heard of this $1 billion lawsuit, you’re not alone.
The drama has stayed mostly under the radar despite many years of hard-fought litigation. Now, as the saga surrounding News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal continues to unfold, and journalists look to find a U.S. connection to the story, Tarnovsky’s name has popped up. He says he’s recently been approached by CBS and ABC to share his story.
“You’re not the first person to call,” he told us when we spoke to him Friday.
In the early 1990s, Tarnovsky worked on high-tech security for the U.S. Army. Some of his duties involved providing support to the National Security Agency for satellite transmissions to Europe.
His experience with satellite-TV systems eventually landed him some work back in the states after leaving the Army. He became known for some postings he made on online pirate forums and was contracted by another pirate who was interested in beating the electronic countermeasures that DirecTV had set up on smart cards used in set-top boxes to lock transmissions away from non-paying customers.
Tarnovsky was quite successful in hacking these cards created by NDS. So much so that eventually, as he once told Wired, NDS offered him a job designing its countermeasures as well as infiltrating the piracy community.
His successes, though, began to raise the suspicions of a rival, NagraStar, which makes access cards and systems for EchoStar’s Dish Network and other pay-TV services. In a billion-dollar lawsuit filed in 2003, NagraStar accused its Murdoch-owned competitor of hiring Tarnovsky and other hackers to manufacture and distribute counterfeit NagraStar cards so that pirates could steal Dish Network’s programming for free.
After five years of litigation, NDS was cleared by a California jury of the most serious allegations. The company was only found to have illegally intercepted EchoStar’s satellite signal in one of its tests. Echostar was awarded less than $46, but the case continued up to the Ninth Circuit over nearly $20 million in legal fees spent by both sides.
Meanwhile, Tarnovsky was eventually let go by NDS.
Now a software security analyst at his own private firm in Vista, California, Tarnovsky believes we need to have a more nuanced view of the world of hacking.
“Every company out there hires hackers,” he says. “When people jailbreak iPhones, Apple hires hackers to protect them.”
On the other hand, Tarnovsky is disgusted like many by what he’s seeing in the news about his former employer.
“All that sounds pretty low,” he says. “To hack into dead people’s voicemails is certainly not ethical.”