A Sophie’s Choice for Murdoch

As far as announcements go, Rebekah Brooks’s resignation today shocked just about no one. The chief executive of News International and a former editor of the disgraced and defunct News of the World had some initial support from Papa Rupert after the scandal first blew up, but as it snowballed this week — crushing everything ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

As far as announcements go, Rebekah Brooks's resignation today shocked just about no one. The chief executive of News International and a former editor of the disgraced and defunct News of the World had some initial support from Papa Rupert after the scandal first blew up, but as it snowballed this week -- crushing everything in its path  -- her hara-kiri seemed impossible to avoid.

But will she be the last to fall on the sword? The knives are still out for Murdoch and his business empire. And focus has shifted to two important people in Rupert's inner sanctum. He might find the need to sacrifice one of them. But who will it be: the son and heir apparent, or one of his closest confidantes who has been with him for 50 years?  

As far as announcements go, Rebekah Brooks’s resignation today shocked just about no one. The chief executive of News International and a former editor of the disgraced and defunct News of the World had some initial support from Papa Rupert after the scandal first blew up, but as it snowballed this week — crushing everything in its path  — her hara-kiri seemed impossible to avoid.

But will she be the last to fall on the sword? The knives are still out for Murdoch and his business empire. And focus has shifted to two important people in Rupert’s inner sanctum. He might find the need to sacrifice one of them. But who will it be: the son and heir apparent, or one of his closest confidantes who has been with him for 50 years?  

James Murdoch

Given her proximity to the scandal, Brooks sucked up a lot of the media oxygen when it came to blame these past few weeks. But with her gone, that attention could shift to Rupert’s heir apparent, James, Brook’s boss at News International. British MPs have attacked the 38-year-old executive recently — saying he has a lot of questions to answer. Chief among them: Why did he authorize payments to hacking victims in exchange for their silence? Critics are saying it smells an awful lot like a cover-up.  

The younger Murdoch has become something of a liability thanks to his response to the scandal — which many say he was too slow to grasp the severity of.  And by transferring money to victims — no matter what the reason — he’s only made things worse.

It might seem hard to believe Rupert would dump his own son in order to save his business, but he has had fall-outs with his children in the past that have led to them exiting the company.  And now that Murdoch’s empire is under FBI investigation — in addition to investigations in Britain and possibly soon Australia — if Rupert believes it’s his company or his son, you can bet he’ll decide pretty quickly the kid has got to go.

Les Hinton

Few in Murdoch’s world are closer to him than Les Hinton, the British news executive who Murdoch put in charge of Dow Jones after he purchased it in 2007. Before that, Hinton headed News International from 1995-2007, when the many dirty tricks were playing out under his watch. Back in 2006, Hinton told Parliament the hacking was limited to a single reporter. Of course, we know now that not only was it not just one reporter, it wasn’t even one newspaper. Many of the media properties under his control were engaging in illegal practices. Critics say he either knew about it or he allowed the dirty culture to breed underneath him. He also didn’t help himself by publicly backing the former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, who last week was arrested for his involvement in the hacking scandal.

Most problematic for Hinton — he is the strongest connection between the British scandal and Murdoch’s American empire. There are indications Murdoch may sell off his damaged British media properties altogether, but abandoning his stateside operations will never happen. And that means Minton might have to go.  

Update: Hinton resigned from News Corp. late today. A memo from Murdoch after the jump:

To Dow Jones employees,

You will have just heard that I, with the heaviest of hearts, have accepted the resignation of Les Hinton. It is a measure of his integrity and the quality of his character that he felt compelled to take responsibility even though he is far from the serious issues in London.

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. I vividly recall an enthusiastic young man in the offices of my first newspaper in Adelaide, where Les joined the company as a 15-year-old and had the rather unenviable task of buying me sandwiches for lunch.

It was clear then that Les was a remarkable talent, and that he had the ability and the energy to carry him far. Little did we both realize that we would be travel companions on a journey through the world of magazines, Hollywood, television studios, coupons and the greatest newspapers on the globe. Little did we realize that our corporate relationship would end in these circumstances.

Through all of his many jobs he has displayed leadership – and that leadership has enabled us to make remarkable progress at the Dow Jones company while our competitors have been flailing because of structural change and economic crisis.

Three and a half years ago, when I stood atop boxes of photocopy paper in the rather dowdy offices of the old Dow Jones, there was no doubt some apprehension among the staff about the new management. No amount of reassurance or cajoling can convince a person to respect another – respect only comes through the reality of day-after-day contact. Respect is earned not granted. Les has earned the respect of all at Dow Jones, both for the way he conducts himself and for the way he has conducted the company.

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.

Let me emphasize one point – 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.

Rupert Murdoch

 

Robert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.

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