News Corp. scandal claims another casualty: Rebekah Brooks
The phone-hacking scandal tearing through News Corp.'s U.K. operations claimed another casualty.
Rebekah Brooks, the embattled head of News Corp.'s News International publishing unit, announced her resignation Friday. As chief of News International, Brooks had oversight over the company's News of the World tabloid, which shut down earlier this week in the wake of accusations that the paper not only hacked into voicemail accounts of celebrities and members of the royal family, but also crime and terrorism victims as well.
Those revelations have led to a huge backlash against the company and led News Corp. to scrap plans for a deal to buy the 60% stake of powerful British satellite broadcaster BSkyB it didn't already own. News Corp. pulled the plug on the deal after recognizing that the News of the World debacle would make getting government approval virtually impossible.
There have been calls for Brooks' resignation for weeks, but her status in the company was boosted by her close relationship with News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his children.
However, with the negative publicity and scrutiny showing no signs of slowing down, Brooks announced she would leave, describing herself as a distraction as the company tries to move past the News of the World mess.
News Corp. issued a statement that Brooks would leave the company after 22 years and be replaced by Tom Mockridge, who has run the conglomerate's Sky Italia division since 2003.
The departure of Brooks may turn attention to Les Hinton, another longtime News Corp. executive who oversaw News International before Brooks and was at the helm, when much of the alleged hacking went on. Hinton is now based in the U.S. and has oversight over News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal.
James Murdoch, who is seen as the eventual heir to his father, issued a lengthy statement outlining steps News Corp. has taken to solve the problems at News International, including setting up a management and standards committee charged with "codifying standards that will be clear and enforced."
He and his father will also appear before Parliament to "speak to them directly about our determination to put things right." Initially, putting top brass before Parliament was resisted, but the company quickly did an about-face.
"The company has made mistakes," James Murdoch said in the statement. "It is not only receiving appropriate scrutiny, but is also responding to unfair attacks by setting the record straight."
Meanwhile, the firestorm has crossed the Atlantic, with the FBI confirming it has opened an investigation into whether British reporters tried to access cellphone messages and records of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in violation of U.S. law. Officials in the United States said evidence has yet to emerge to confirm that News Corp. employees sought to hack phones in this country.
Brooks, 43, who is known for her charm and tenacity, began her journalism career as a secretary at the tabloid -- and ultimately rose to become its editor. However, calls for her resignation started when The Guardian newspaper reported that News of the World had hacked the phone of a 13-year-old murder victim. Brooks has said she had "no knowledge whatsoever" that this had occurred. Other damaging allegations quickly emerged, including that relatives of people killed in terrorist attacks on London's transit system may have been targeted.
Some speculated that a turning point came Thursday night, when News Corp.'s second largest shareholder, Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, called for her ouster in an interview with the BBC.
"She has been one of the outstanding editors of her generation and she can be proud of many accomplishments as an executive," News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating officer James Murdoch said in a statement. "We support her as she takes this step to clear her name."
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski
Photo: Rebekah Brooks. Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images