It’s one of the most astonishing and unlikely sites in media history: Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful man in global media getting a pie in the face.

But more worryingly, admitting he doesn’t know what’s going on in his own company. Murdoch was facing a parliamentary committee at Westminster to explain the genesis of the current phone-hacking crisis, sparked by the illegal phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World.

Critics of the Murdochs had their day of questioning at the Department for Culture Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday afternoon (re-live the fun here) – where Murdoch, his son and Rebekah Brooks, the now-resigned CEO of New International – were grilled by MPs seeking answers on the scandal. Seek they did, but receive they did not.

‘We come not to explain but to apologise’

The Murdochs kicked off by trying to read out a statement apologising and being humble for the whole affair (paidContent has it in full). All Rupert Murdoch managed to blurt out from it – interrupting his son – was: “This is the most humble day of my career.”

That’s the tabloid genius at work – Murdoch started his career as a sub-editor, after graduating from Oxford, and he still knows how to write a headline. Whether that line survives until the morning newspaper editions seems unlikely.

Questions of substance from MPs, mainly “what did you know and when” about phone hacking and payments to people like Max Clifford, were batted away.

There was no answer on who knew exactly what at which point, in relation to a file containing phone hacking details found at the offices of Harbottle and Lewis, a law firm employed by News. As the guardian.co.uk liveblog shows the most James Murdoch could offer to very serious questions was different versions of “I don’t know”.

The man of the hour: Tom Watson gets his moment of glory

Backbench opposition MPs don’t usually make the headlines, unless it’s for fraudulent expense claims of sexual encounters of the extra-marital kind.

But Tom Watson, an ally of Gordon Brown, has been unfalteringly following the phone hacking case for years, pressuring the Murdochs to make this very appearance. He asked Rupert Murdoch if his earlier insistence that News Corp still has a “zero tolerance” to illegality by staff? And if previous statements by him and staff are now untrue, then who was lying?

“I don’t know, that is the case that we’re investigating,” said Murdoch snr, again repeating his ignorance of the key details.

Listen to him in action:

Picture is via @DanJHayes