- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-rocked empire retreated from defiance to contrition Friday as the media magnate accepted the resignation of his protege Rebekah Brooks, publicly apologized for his company’s sins and met the family of a murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked by the News of the World tabloid.

The shift in strategy was aimed at calming a storm that has knocked nearly $7 billion off the value of Murdoch’s News Corp., scuttled his ambitions to take control of lucrative British Sky Broadcasting, withered his political power in Britain _ and is threatening to destabilize his globe-spanning business.

Just a day after asserting that News Corp. had made only “minor mistakes,” Murdoch issued an apology to run in Britain’s national newspapers for “serious wrongdoing” by the News of the World, which he shut down last week amid allegations of large-scale illegal hacking by its staff.

“We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out,” said the full-page ad, signed by Murdoch and due to run in Saturday’s editions of all main national newspapers.

Murdoch promised “further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused.”

Murdoch also met the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World in 2002. The revelation that journalists had accessed her phone in search of scoops inflamed the long-simmering scandal about illegal eavesdropping by the newspaper.

The 80-year-old mogul emerged from the meeting at a London hotel to catcalls of “shame on you!” from hecklers. He said that “as founder of the company I was appalled to find out what had happened and I apologized.”

Dowler family lawyer Mark Lewis said Murdoch appeared humbled and had offered “a heartfelt and what seemed to be a very sincere apology.”

“I don’t think somebody could have held their head in their hands so many times and said that they were sorry,” Lewis said.

Murdoch’s tone was dramatically different from an interview published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal _ which is owned by News Corp. _ in which he said the company had handled the crisis “extremely well in every way possible” and complained he was “getting annoyed” at all the negative headlines.

The crisis claimed its most senior scalp Friday as Brooks, chief executive of Murdoch’s British newspaper division, resigned.

The media magnate had defended the 43-year-old Brooks in the face of demands she step down from British politicians _ including her friend and neighbor, Prime Minister David Cameron. After previously refusing to accept her resignation, he made an abrupt switch as News Corp. struggled but failed to contain the crisis.

Brooks said she was stepping aside because “my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate.”

“This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavors to fix the problems of the past,” she said in an email to staff.

Brooks said she would “concentrate on correcting the distortions and rebutting the allegations about my record as a journalist, an editor and executive.”

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