Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton resign amid fallout from phone-hacking scandal

The scandal-fueled shakeup at News Corp. unfolded at a fast pace on Friday as embattled News Intl. prexy Rebekah Brooks announced her resignation, followed hours later by the departure of 52-year News Corp. vet Les Hinton.

Meanwhile, News Corp. deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch issued a lengthy mea culpa statement to News Intl. staffers detailing “the actions we have been taking as a company to solve the problems at News International relating to the News of the World.” The statement said the company would run full-page advertisements in national U.K. newspapers this weekend to “apologise to the nation for what has happened.”

And speculation was mounting Friday that News Corp.’s once-undisputed ruler, Rupert Murdoch, would soon give up the CEO title to his top lieutenant, prexy and chief operating officer Chase Carey, though he is expected to remain chairman.

London-based Brooks has been at the center of the storm over allegations of phone-hacking, bribing and other unsavory charges at some of the newspapers in the News Intl. unit she has headed since late 2007. In a statement, Brooks said she was departing because she no longer wanted to be “the focal point of the debate” about accountability at News Corp. as a result of the ever-widening scandal, which has sparked numerous probes on both sides of the Atlantic.

News Corp. tapped Sky Italia topper Tom Mockridge to succeed Brooks as News Intl. topper.

Hinton ran News Intl. for more than a decade until he was tapped to serve as CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal in late 2007 following News Corp.’s acquisition of the Journal’s parent company. The announcement of Hinton’s exit included extraordinarily candid statements of remorse from Hinton and Rupert Murdoch. Hinton began his career at the age of 15 at Murdoch’s first newspaper, the Adelaide News (where his duties included fetching Murdoch’s lunch), and over the past five decades has been a trusted confident of Murdoch as he built up the News Corp. empire.

“Les and I have been on a remarkable journey together for more than 52 years. That this passage has come to an unexpected end, professionally, not personally, is a matter of much sadness to me,” Murdoch said. “On this difficult day we should appreciate that his extraordinary work has provided a platform for the future success of Dow Jones. And his great contribution to News Corporation over more than five decades has enhanced innumerable lives, whether those of employees hired by him or of readers better informed because of him. News Corporation is not Rupert Murdoch. It is the collective creativity and effort of many thousands of people around the world, and few individuals have given more to this company than Les Hinton.”

Hinton expressed his regret but also asserted that he was unaware of the phone-hacking and other activities that spurred the shutdown of the News of the World of July 9.

“I have watched with sorrow from New York as the News of the World story has unfolded. I have seen hundreds of news reports of both actual and alleged misconduct during the time I was executive chairman of News International and responsible for the company. The pain caused to innocent people 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,” Hinton said.

In what sounded like the start of a legal defense, Hinton related specifics in discussing the history of his past statements on the phone-hacking issue, which first erupted in 2006 but snowballed this month as more revelations surfaced in rival papers.

“When I left News International in December 2007, I believed that the rotten element at the News of the World had been eliminated; that important lessons had been learned; and that journalistic integrity was restored,” Hinton said. “My testimonies before the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee were given honestly. When I appeared before the Committee in March 2007, I expressed the belief that Clive Goodman had acted alone, but made clear our investigation was continuing. In September 2009, I told the Committee there had never been any evidence delivered to me that suggested the conduct had spread beyond one journalist. If others had evidence that wrongdoing went further, I was not told about it,” Hinton said.

Rupert Murdoch has also reportedly apologized to the family of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, whose cell phone was hacked and messages deleted by parties working for News Corp tabloid News of the World when she went missing, giving her parents false hope that she was still alive.

Brooks confirmed her departure on Friday morning to News Intl. staff in London, telling them that Rupert and James Murdoch, with whom she has long been close, had accepted her resignation.

“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,” Brooks said in her statement. “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, who had been with News Intl. for more than 20 years, was editor of the now-defunct News of the World when many of the phone hacking allegations that have come to light occurred. She and Rupert and James Murdoch are due to appear before a parliamentary select committee on Tuesday to answer questions on the entire News Intl. scandal.

Brooks added that her resignation would give her “the freedom and the time to give my full co-operation to all the current and future inquiries, the police investigations and the CMS appearance.”

James Murdoch’s statement lauded Brooks as “one of the outstanding editors of her generation and she can be proud of many accomplishments as an executive. We support her as she takes this step to clear her name.”

The letter of apology set to run in U.K. newspapers this weekend is penned by Rupert Murdoch and will run under the headline: “We are sorry.”

In the letter, Murdoch apologizes for the “serious wrongdoing that occurred.”

“We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected,” he wrote. “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.”

In Friday’s statement from James Murdoch, who oversees the company’s operations in Europe and Asia, he noted the company has created an “independent Management & Standards Committee” that will be overseen by News Corp. board members. He said the committee was in the process of “codifying standards that will be clear and enforced.”

As the company faces federal probes in the U.K. and the U.S., James Murdoch promised to cooperate with the inquries but he also vowed to defend the company in this period of vulnerability.

“The company has made mistakes,” Murdoch wrote. “It is not only receiving appropriate scrutiny, but is also responding to unfair attacks by setting the record straight.”

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