Rupert Murdoch’s protege Rebekah Brooks resigns as scrutiny of News Corp. intensifies

July 15, 2011

Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World and head of the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, resigned on Friday after becoming a focal point of criticism over the phone hacking scandal that caused the closure of News of the World. As Anthony Faiola reported:

Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World tabloid, resigned Friday as head of the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, saying she had become a focal point of the scandal in a way that was jeopardizing the company.

“At News International we pride ourselves on setting the news agenda for the right reasons,” Brooks, one of Britain’s most influential journalists, said in an internal memo released by the company. “Today we are leading the news for the wrong ones. The reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk.”

Rising to the post of chief executive of News Corp.’s British operation, Brooks has long been one of Murdoch’s favorites, a woman with trademark flaming red hair whom he once described as like a “daughter.”

She headed News of the World from 2000 to 2003, a time when the paper allegedly routinely used illegal phone hacks to gather insider tidbits from both celebrities and ordinary citizens, going as far as to interfere in a police investigation of a young girl who was kidnapped and killed in 2002.

Brooks is set to appear before members of Parliament on Tuesday — along with Murdoch and his son James Murdoch — for questioning about her knowledge of the case.

In previous testimony in 2003, she had admitted that News of the World journalists paid bribes to police to obtain information. But Brooks has denied knowledge of widespread phone hacking at the 168-year-old News of the World, which Murdoch closed last week to try to stem the crisis.

Scrutiny of Murdoch’s News Corporation has spread across the Altantic after the inital scandal in Britain. The FBI opened an inquiry into the possible phone hacking of 9/11 victims by News Corp. employees. As Jerry Mrkon and David Hilzenrath explained:

The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that News Corp. employees sought to hack into the phones of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and tried to bribe law enforcement officers for information, U.S. officials said Thursday.

FBI agents are reviewing information on the phone-hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s British media operations and trying to determine if U.S. laws were broken, the officials said. Murdoch is chairman and chief executive of News Corp., which is based in New York and has extensive U.S. operations.

While it is unclear if the review will expand into a full investigation, the FBI’s involvement heightens the scrutiny faced by the media giant, which is under intense fire in Britain over allegations that its journalists hacked into the phones of thousands of people.

The FBI probe also raises the politically delicate possibility that the Obama administration— which has questioned the objectivity of News Corp.’s Fox News — could bring criminal charges against employees of the network’s parent company. Murdoch is a political conservative, and last year he directed a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association on behalf of News Corp.

U.S. officials cautioned that it is too soon to tell if charges will be filed, and they indicated that the probe could face a range of complexities, including jurisdictional issues and statutes of limitation that may have expired. Federal investigators also are expected to consult with their counterparts in Britain, which could slow their pace.

Rupert Murdoch’s personal political influence across the world is being cast in a new light due to the scandal, with British politicians admitting an overly friendly role with the media mogul. As AP reported:

Rupert Murdoch is a political kingmaker in Britain and his native Australia. In the United States, he’s best known for promoting conservative opinion through media properties like the Fox News Channel. And in China, he’s primarily a businessman working to give his News Corp. empire a toehold in that country’s tightly controlled media market.

The phone hacking scandal roiling Britain has cast a fresh light on the billionaire media mogul’s influence around the globe.

His outsize political role in Britain will almost certainly be reduced amid evidence his newspapers illegally hacked phones, including that of a murdered teenager, and bribed police. It’s less clear what will happen in Australia. Murdoch’s political engagement in the U.S. and elsewhere is less intimate and may not be as compromised by the burgeoning controversy.

“His newspapers in England are far more directly involved in politics than anything he owns in the U.S,” said Michael Wolff, editorial director of Adweek magazine and author of a Murdoch biography, “The Man Who Owns the News.” ‘’He’s significantly more influential in the political life of that country.”

In the U.S. and other countries, Wolff said, “he’s wielded considerable influence but much less than in the U.K. He’s focused his influence mainly on the regulatory issues that most affect his business.”

More from The Washington Post

Key dates in the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire

Fox News, CNN confront coverage issues on Murdoch’s News International hacking scandal

Scotland Yard says someone is trying to sabotage investigation into tabloid hacking

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