July 15, 2024

2 Top Deputies Resign as Crisis Isolates Murdoch

Les Hinton, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal since 2007, who oversaw Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper subsidiary when voice mail hacking by journalists was rampant, and Rebekah Brooks, who has run the British papers since 2009 and become the target of unrelenting public outrage, both resigned in the latest blow to the News Corporation and its besieged chairman.

At first incensed by the assault on his company’s reputation, Mr. Murdoch insisted as late as Thursday that the executives had performed “excellently” in dealing with the crisis since it erupted two weeks ago. He was said to be loath to lose either of them, and became convinced that they had to leave only over the last several days, as executives and outside advisers flew in to help manage the crisis from the company’s gleaming granite and glass offices in Wapping, East London.

In arriving at the final decision, Mr. Murdoch was joined by his two sons, James and Lachlan, and Joel I. Klein, a senior News Corporation executive and former New York City Schools chancellor.

The resignations came on a day when Mr. Murdoch made a series of public mea culpas. He wrote a letter to be published in all British newspapers over the weekend acknowledging that the company did not address its problems soon enough. “We are sorry,” it begins.

He also visited the family of a murdered 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, whose voice mail was hacked by reporters at The News of the World while she was still listed as missing. According to the Dowler family’s lawyer, Mark Lewis, Mr. Murdoch held his head in his hands and apologized for the actions of his employees, who deleted phone messages after the girl’s mailbox had been filled so they could collect more new messages.

Mr. Lewis said that Mr. Murdoch apologized “many times,” and that he was “very humbled, he was very shaken and he was very sincere.”

Whether these actions will do anything to quiet the backlash against the News Corporation is unclear. Mr. Murdoch, Ms. Brooks and James Murdoch, the company’s deputy chief operating officer and Rupert’s younger son, are set to testify next week before Parliament, where they will face questions from politicians who have become suddenly unafraid to publicly condemn the man whose favor they once saw as a key to political success.

Mr. Murdoch has become an increasingly isolated figure, not only in Britain but within his own company. The departure in recent years of top executives who often provided a counterweight to his famous irascibility and stubbornness has left him surrounded by fewer people who can effectively question his decisions. He initially rejected Ms. Brooks’s offer to resign from News International, his British subsidiary, despite advice to accept it from senior News Corporation executives, said people briefed on the company’s discussions.

Ms. Brooks, who was editor of The News of the World when the abuses began in 2002, repeatedly told the Murdochs that she knew nothing of the hacking and that she would be exonerated when all the facts came out.

In her farewell message, Ms. Brooks acknowledged that she had become a distraction. “The reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk,” she wrote. “As chief executive of the company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place.”

On Friday, former staff members at The News of the World questioned why Ms. Brooks did not resign earlier. “Our paper was sacrificed to save her career, and now she’s gone as well,” one former employee said, requesting anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his position in severance negotiations. “Who knows why they’ve chosen to do it now, as she’ll have to appear before the select committee anyway.”

Until Friday, Mr. Hinton had been largely an offstage figure in the scandal. But questions grew about what he knew about the improper practices going on at the newspapers under his watch, even though he has testified twice before Parliament saying that he believed the hacking was limited to one rogue journalist and a private investigator employed by The News of the World.

John F. Burns reported from London, and Jeremy W. Peters from New York. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Ravi Somaiya from London.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/16/world/europe/16hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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