Murdoch apologizes to family of slain schoolgirl
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.
“I am tied by the criminal investigation but I think in a year’s time, every single one of you in this room might come up and say ‘OK, well, I see what she saw now,’” she said, according to a recording obtained by Sky News.
The comments Friday by James Murdoch, who heads the international operations of the New York-based News Corp., were an abrupt shift in tone from an interview his father gave Thursday to The Wall Street Journal _ another Murdoch paper. Rupert Murdoch had said that News Corp. management had handled the crisis “extremely well in every way possible” save for a few “minor mistakes.”
Brooks has been in charge of News International’s four _ now three _ British newspapers since 2007, following a four-year stint as editor of the market-leading daily tabloid, The Sun. Just a week ago, she faced 200 angry employees at the News of the World who had lost their jobs as she kept hers when Murdoch shut down the paper.
The news of her resignation was greeted with relief by British politicians.
“It is right that Rebekah Brooks has finally taken responsibility for the terrible events that happened on her watch, like the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone,” said opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. “No one in this country should exercise power without responsibility.”
Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, the second-largest News Corp. stockholder, told the BBC on Thursday that if Brooks were found to be implicated in wrongdoing by the newspapers “for sure she has to go. “
Brooks has agreed to answer questions next week from a U.K. parliamentary committee. Rupert and James Murdoch initially resisted, but also agreed to appear after the committee issued formal summonses to them.
Being hauled before a hostile group of legislators marks a rapid change of fortune for the 80-year-old Murdoch, long accustomed to being courted by prime ministers and other politicians scared of provoking the wrath of his editors.
“Murdoch is like a beast or a god. He can attack you and destroy you or he can give you great power and glory,” Lord Maurice Glasman said Friday in a House of Lords debate. “He was outside the constraints, outside of law. He makes and breaks kings.”
British police have arrested seven people in their investigation of phone hacking, and two others in a parallel investigation of alleged bribery of police officers for information. Police say they have recovered a list of 3,700 names _ regarded as potential victims _ but so far have been in touch with fewer than 200 people.
News Corp. shares were down 1.3 percent at $15.78 in early New York trading.