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LONDON (AP) - Rupert Murdoch’s loyal lieutenant Rebekah Brooks resigned Friday as chief executive of his embattled British newspapers as the media titan personally apologized to a family at the center of the phone-hacking scandal roiling Britain.
With the departure of Brooks _ the highest-ranking casualty yet in the scandal _ Murdoch’s son James signaled a new strategy for dealing with the storm that has knocked billions off the value of News Corp., scuttled its ambitions to take full control of lucrative British Sky Broadcasting and radically changed the power balance between U.K. politicians and the feared Murdoch press.
News Corp. will place advertisements in all national newspapers this weekend to apologize to the nation for activities of its journalists. Signed by the media mogul, the ad says News International is “deeply sorry for the hurt” caused to phone hacking victims. It adds “we regret not acting faster to sort things out.”
In a further act of contrition, Murdoch offer “a full and sincere apology” to the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the now-defunct tabloid News of the World, a lawyer for the family said.
Mark Lewis described Murdoch as “very humbled” and “very shaken” in the private meeting at a London hotel. He told reporters gathered outside that the media baron had apologized “many times” to the Dowlers, telling them that the events that transpired at the News of the World tabloid were not in keeping with the standards set out when his own father entered the media industry.
A new chief executive untainted by the U.K. problems, Tom Mockridge, 55, was installed to replace Brooks as at News International, the local unit of Rupert Murdoch’s global News Corp. media empire. Mockridge, a New Zealander who has served as a spokesman for the Australian government, joined News Corp. in 1991 and has been in charge of Sky Italia since 2003.
The moves come after News Corp. brought in Edelman Communications to help with public relations and lobbying.
But with two U.K. police investigations running as well as an FBI review into the possible hacking of the phones of 9/11 victims, it remains far from clear what happened, what may yet be revealed or which of the proliferating allegations of wrongdoing circulating among Britain’s papers is really true.
Rupert Murdoch had defended the 43-year-old Brooks in the face of demands from British politicians that she step down, and had previously refused to accept her resignation. He made an abrupt switch, however, as News Corp. struggled but failed to contain the crisis.
Brooks was editor of the News of the World tabloid between 2000 and 2003, when the paper’s employees allegedly hacked into the phone of the 13-year-old murder victim in 2002 as police searched for her, potentially interfering with the police investigation.
That report last week provoked outrage far beyond any previous revelations of snooping on celebrities, politicians and athletes. In quick succession, Murdoch closed the 168-year-old News of the World and abandoned his bid for full BSkyB ownership. Prime Minister David Cameron then appointed a judge to conduct a sweeping inquiry into criminal activity at the paper and in the British media.
“I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate,” Brooks said in an email Friday to colleagues that was released by News International. “This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavors to fix the problems of the past.”
Yet Brooks hinted last week that there was more to come.
“We have more visibility perhaps with what we can see coming our way than you guys can,” she told staff at News of the World as they prepared their last edition.
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