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News of the World Fallout Spreads Deeper Into U.K. Politics

July 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now, Britain’s prime minister takes on his critics in the phone-hacking scandal. David Cameron faced questions today about hiring a former tabloid editor who’s since resigned and been arrested and about Rupert Murdoch’s aborted bid for BSkyB, British Sky Broadcasting.

We start with a report from Gary Gibbon of Independent Television News.

GARY GIBBON: The prime minister put off parliament’s summer break by a day to try to reestablish his own standing with a statement and debate on phone hacking.

After two weeks of resisting pressure for a public apology over the hiring of Andy Coulson, David Cameron today edged towards one. And he said people would hear the full genuine article if Andy Coulson was found to have lied.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: I have an old-fashioned view about innocent until proven guilty.

(CHEERING)

DAVID CAMERON: But if it turns out I have been lied to, that would be a moment for a profound apology. And, in that event, I can tell you I will not fall short.

People will, of course, make judgments about it. Of course, I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furore it has caused. With 20/20 hindsight and all that has followed, I wouldn’t have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it. But you don’t make decisions in hindsight. You make them in the present. You live and you learn. And believe you me, I have learnt.

ED MILIBAND, British Labor Party leader: That isn’t good enough, because people — people — it’s not about hindsight, Mr. Speaker. It’s not about whether Mr. Coulson lied to him. It’s about all the information and warnings that the prime minister ignored.

GARY GIBBON: Labor says the prime minister should have turfed Andy Coulson out of Number 10 in September last year, when The New York Times published its report on rampant phone-hacking at the News of the World, when Andy Coulson was editor.

The New York Times quoted a former editor of the paper recalling dozens, if not hundreds of meetings with Andy. “Coulson would ask where a story came from. Editors would reply, ‘We have pulled the phone records’ or ‘I have listened to the phone messages.’”

The day after the Murdochs were asked about meetings with David Cameron, Labor M.P.s asked the prime minister repeatedly if he’d talked about the BSkyB takeover bid in his private meetings with the Murdochs and their team. David Cameron repeatedly avoided answering the question at all.

DENNIS SKINNER, British parliamentarian: In the course of the past few minutes, the prime minister has been asked a simple question twice and refused to answer it. As prime minister, did he ever discuss the question of the BSkyB with News International at all the meetings that they attended?

DAVID CAMERON: I never had one inappropriate conversation.

(SHOUTING)

DAVID CAMERON: And let me be clear. Let me be clear.

GARY GIBBON: Despite Labor’s mockery over that answer, David Cameron’s team feels he did something to look in charge of events today, after weeks of sliding behind them.

But as Rupert Murdoch’s plane receded into the skies over Luton, all parties were saying they sensed voters wanted to hear them talking about other stuff.