Rebekah Brooks quits as FBI launches 9/11 probe

Jul 15, 2011
Nigel Horne

In London Murdoch accepts resignation of newspaper chief; in New York the pressure builds on his US operation

Countless politicians have been calling for her head and almost all media observers have said, day after day, that her departure was inevitable. This morning it finally happened. Rebekah Brooks, flame-haired chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper company News International, has resigned.

She said she felt "a deep sense of responsibility" for all the people hurt by the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, which she edited between 2000 and 2003.
The fact that Murdoch accepted the resignation of the woman he supposedly sees as a daughter can be taken as a sign that he is determined to hold on to his three remaining UK titles - the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

As he told the Wall Street Journal - his flagship American newspaper - yesterday, the speculation that he might offload his London papers was "pure and total rubbish". There is even talk that the 80-year-old newspaper man is intent on launching a Sunday Sun as early as next month.

Brooks's resignation came shortly after the Daily Telegraph reported that Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth had told friends that the News International CEO had "fucked the company". This was seen as the first breach in the family's show of solidarity with Brooks.

It also followed the appearance on BBC Newsnight yesterday of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al-Saud, the second largest shareholder in News Corp, who said Brooks should resign if there was any indication that she was aware of phone hacking at the News of the World.

Intriguingly, the parting of the ways came after Murdoch's one-time rival Conrad Black wrote in the Financial Times: "Murdoch has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his company."

Brooks's resignation wraps up another extraordinary 24-hour period in the Murdoch saga...

FBI TO INVESTIGATE 9/11 HACKING CLAImThe FBI has launched in inquiry into claims that the News of the World may have hacked into the voicemail of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International, was the paper's editor at the time.

Senator Barbara Boxer has warned that Murdoch, who owns Fox TV in the US, risks having his media licence removed if such hacking can be proved.

The news caused News Corp shares to fall by three per cent, wiping about $1bn from the media giant's value in under an hour.

The 9/11 allegation surfaced in the Daily Mirror which claimed on Monday that an unnamed former New York cop, now a private investigator, was contacted in 2001 by News of the World journalists who said they would pay him to retrieve the private phone records of dead victims. They were particularly interested in British-born victims.

The strength of the Mirror story is uncertain. It is attributed not to the private investigator himself but to a 'source', again unnamed.

The source was quoted by the Mirror as saying: "His [the former cop's] presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look."

MURDOCHS AGREE TO FACE MPsAfter being threatened with a charge of contempt of parliament, carrying a possible prison term, Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch have agreed to appear before the Commons culture select committee next Tuesday alongside Rebekah Brooks, having originally declined.

The committee is investigating why News International executives appear to have provided false or misleading information to MPs in the past over the issues of phone hacking and payments to police. James Murdoch admitted in last week's statement announcing the closure of the News of the World that "untruths" were told to parliament.

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has led the campaign in parliament against phone hacking and is a member of the select committee, told Channel 4 News: "We need to know what Rebekah Brooks knew about payments to police. We need to ask James Murdoch how he authorised payments to buy the silence of hacking victims. And from Rupert Murdoch we just need a wider question: why did you let this happen?"

There are fears the Murdochs will seek to stonewall the committee.

 NEWS CORP FACES BRIBERY INQUIRYThere is growing pressure in the States for News Corp to be prosecuted under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) which makes it illegal for  US-based companies to bribe foreign officials. Under the law, company executives can be fined and/or imprisoned.

News Corp is US-based. Its corporate literature states: "We don't offer, give, solicit or accept bribes or kickbacks, either in cash or in the form of any other thing or service of value," it says.

But we now know the News of the World has paid money for information to police officers in the UK.

According to Philip Raible, a media lawyer with Rayner Rowe LLP in New York quoted by the Guardian, the News of the World payouts "would seem to fall squarely within the parameters of the FCPA".

Any such prosecution could put added pressure on Les Hinton, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal who ran News International in London from 1995 to 2007.

As the New York Times reports, Hinton's statement to MPs in 2006, when he famously claimed that phone hacking at the NotW was the work of one "rogue" reporter, "would indicate at best that he unwittingly allowed a corrupt journalistic culture to flourish underneath him".

AND YET...  MURDOCH STILL PLANS A NEW SUNDAY SUNDespite myriad warnings that the quick launch of a Sunday version of the Sun to replace the defunct News of the World would infuriate politicians and be seen as cynical by the public, there are reports that Rupert Murdoch wants the new paper on the streets by August 7.

The speedy launch is designed to grab NotW readers before they desert to other Sunday tabloids, such as the Mail and the Express, and to get out a big-selling Premier League preview of the kind the NotW always produced the weekend before the new season begins.

The editor is mooted to be Victoria Newton, who like Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulsion is a former gossip/showbiz reporter.

In the meantime, the Guardian reports that News International is seeking to publish a full-page apology in a range of national papers over the coming weekend.

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