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The embattled Rupert Murdoch, who saw his protégé and the chief executive officer of his media group News International, Rebekah Brooks, arrested over the weekend, attempted to make amends with the British public over the snowballing phone-hacking scandal. On Saturday, the media tycoon took out ads in the major British newspapers with a full-page apology and a headline reading: “We are sorry.” Murdoch expressed regret for the “wrongdoing” and the “hurt suffered” by the individuals whose phones were tapped by his newspapers: “We regret not acting faster to sort things out.…Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this.…In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.”
Murdoch, who last week was forced to give up his bid for a controlling stake in the broadcaster BSkyB, is also facing pressures to break up News International, which includes The Sun tabloid and The Times of London.
This story first appeared in the July 18, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Telegraph reported that David and Victoria Beckham, Sir Paul McCartney and Jude Law also suspect their phones were hacked by a private investigator working for News of the World, the title at the center of the scandal that Murdoch shut down earlier this month.
On Friday, Dow Jones ceo and Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton tendered his resignation. (Brooks resigned earlier that morning in Britain and, according to The Independent, received a 3.5 million pound, or $5.6 million, severance.) Hinton led the U.K. arm of Murdoch’s empire from 1995 until 2007, when most of the misconduct is believed to have occurred, and was installed by Murdoch as Dow Jones ceo after he took over the company.
The Journal, which became more hands-on in covering the scandal as the week wore on, broke the news of Hinton’s resignation. Hinton’s departure “is not surprising,” said one source at the newspaper. “He’s a distant figure to people on the editorial side.”
Hinton testified before the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee of the U.K. parliament in 2007 and 2009, saying that, as far as he knew, phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter and that he had no knowledge of the practice at the company’s newspapers. His honesty in those testimonies has been called into question.
Tod Larsen, the president of Dow Jones and a holdover from before Murdoch purchased the company, will now report to News Corp. chief operating officer and deputy chairman Chase Carey. Larsen won’t take the title of ceo. “Nobody has any of Les’ titles at this point,” said a company spokesman. This arrangement will probably be tested before News Corp. hires an executive search firm to replace Hinton.
A former Journal executive, discussing Hinton’s resignation, raised Journal managing editor Robert Thomson as a possible successor. “On the print side, Rupert has lost today the two closest colleagues he has in the world [Brooks and Hinton] and the only one who remains with anywhere near that amount of trust with Rupert is Robert,” he said.
Hinton started at the company at age 15, fetching sandwiches for Murdoch at his first newspaper in Adelaide, Australia. In his resignation, Hinton said he didn’t have any part in illegal activity at News of the World. “That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign,” he wrote in a “Dear Rupert” letter to Murdoch on Friday.
Murdoch and his son James will appear before a House of Commons parliamentary committee on Tuesday.