LONDON (AP) - Rupert Murdoch accepted the resignations of The Wall Street Journal’s publisher and the chief of his British operations on Friday as the once-defiant media mogul struggled to control an escalating phone hacking scandal, offering apologies to the public and the family of a murdered schoolgirl.
The scandal has knocked billions off the value of Murdoch’s News Corp., scuttled his ambitions to take control of a lucrative satellite TV company, withered his political power in Britain _ and is threatening to destabilize his globe-spanning empire.
The controversy claimed its first Murdoch executive in the United States as Les Hinton, chief executive of the Murdoch-owned Dow Jones & Co. and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, announced he was resigning with immediate effect.
Murdoch’s British lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks, stepped down earlier Friday.
Hinton, 67, has worked for Murdoch’s News Corp. for 52 years and is one of the media baron’s staunchest allies. He became head of Dow Jones in December 2007.
He was chairman of Murdoch’s British newspaper arm during some of the years its staffers are alleged to have hacked cell phones, but testified to a parliamentary committee in 2009 that he had seen no evidence abuses had spread beyond a single jailed reporter, Clive Goodman.
Hinton said Friday that “the pain caused to innocent people (by hacking) is unimaginable.”
“That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant, and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp. and apologize to those hurt by the actions of News of the World,” he said.
Murdoch said he accepted Hinton’s resignation with “much sadness.” It capped a difficult week for the embattled mogul.
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 Britain’s 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.”