Embattled CEO Of Murdoch's British Papers Resigns

July 15, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

The former editor of the News of the World tabloid stepped down Friday as CEO of Rupert Murdoch's British media company, amid a scandal over hacked cellphones that has prompted investigations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rebekah Brooks was editor of the News between 2000 and 2003 during the time that reporters allegedly hacked into the cellphone of a 13-year-old murder victim, among others. In a statement Friday, Brooks said she felt "deep responsibility for the people we have hurt."

The growing scandal, which has threatened to engulf the larger News Corp. empire, forced Murdoch to close the paper, which published its last issue on Sunday.

In the United States, meanwhile, the FBI opened an investigation into claims that News Corp. journalists may have sought to hack into the phones of Sept. 11 victims in their quest for sensational scoops.

The allegations in the U.S. "are more thinly sourced. It's not clear exactly what happened," NPR's David Folkenflik said.

The U.K. investigation of phone hacking appears still to be at an early stage. Police said they had recovered a list of 3,700 names — regarded as potential victims — but so far had been in touch with fewer than 200 people.

Brooks To Face Parliamentary Committee's Questions

Although Murdoch had initially stuck by his protege of 22 years, Brooks' position became increasingly untenable as fallout from the scandal spread, prompting a parliamentary investigation in Britain and talk of a congressional investigation in the U.S.

Evan Harris, who heads a group supporting those who've had their phones hacked, said he welcomes the resignation.

"It's about what actually happened, how bad it was and who is actually responsible," Harris said.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman also said Brooks made the right decision.

Brooks agreed Thursday to answer questions next week from a U.K. parliamentary committee. Murdoch and his son, James — who heads the international operations of New York-based News Corp. and is considered heir apparent to the media empire — initially resisted but also agreed to appear after the committee raised the stakes by issuing formal summonses.

Brooks is the biggest casualty so far in the scandal. James Murdoch said he plans to run advertisements in major British newspapers to apologize to the nation for the scandal. He said the company will follow this up in the future with communications that address what he calls "the wrongdoing that occurred."

Rupert Murdoch Defends Handling Of Crisis

In an interview published Thursday in the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal, the elder Murdoch, 80, vigorously defended his own and his son's navigation of the crisis, which he said had been handled "extremely well in every way possible," and said only "minor mistakes" have been made.

He said damage to the media company is "nothing that will not be recovered."

He said he was "annoyed" by the crush of negative publicity surrounding the scandal but that he'd "get over it. I'm tired."

The Murdochs have "gone from a family that is feared and courted publicly – even if denounced privately – to almost a public enemy No. 1 ... with the British Parliament unified against the Murdoch empire," NPR's Folkenflik said.

Tom Mockridge, chief executive of News Corp.'s Sky Italia television unit, has been appointed to succeed Brooks immediately. Mockridge began his career at a paper in New Zealand and then served as a spokesman for the Australian government before joining News Corp. in 1991.

Comments Before Parliamentary Committee In 2003

Police in Britain have arrested seven people, including Neil Wallis, former deputy editor and then executive editor of News of the World, in the phone hacking investigation, as well as two others in a parallel investigation of alleged bribery of police officers for information.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee addressing police bribery charges in 2003, Brooks was asked whether News of the World or The Sun, another Murdoch-owned British tabloid, had ever paid police for information.

"We have paid the police for information in the past," she said.

Asked whether she would do it again, she said: "It depends."

Then-editor of News of the World Andy Coulson, who was arrested last week in the hacking investigation, interrupted to say: "We operate within the [press] code and within the law, and if there is a clear public interest then we will."

Coulson is an example of the cozy ties between the British media and politicians — he was Cameron's communications chief before resigning in January.

NPR's David Folkenflik and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Categories
,