Rebekah Brooks Steps Down at News Corp.; Murdoch Flailing

Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch. Photo: Indigo/Getty Images

First Rupert Murdoch lost his pet deal, the bid to take over BSkyB. Now he's losing his protégée. Rebekah Brooks, the flame-haired CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper division, seemed throughout the unfolding scandal to be just about the only person Murdoch was worried about protecting. She finally stepped down this morning amid mounting pressure. Her statement contained a reminder that Murdoch had rejected her two previous attempts to step down:

“My desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate. This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavours to fix the problems of the past. Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted.”

The Guardian speculates that Murdoch may finally have accepted Brooks's resignation after Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, News Corp.'s second-largest shareholder, called for her resignation in an interview Thursday night with Newsnight.

"The indications are that her involvement in this matter is explicit. For sure she has to go, you bet she has to go. Ethics to me is very important. I will not tolerate to deal with a company that has a lady or a man that has any sliver of doubts on her or his integrity."

If true, that's just one of several indications that Murdoch is in reactive mode, no longer in full control of his message.

Brooks is replaced by Tom Mockridge, head of Sky Italia, who is untainted by the scandal and also, interestingly, presided over the sale of News Corp.'s New Zealand newspaper division in 2003. Brooks will join Murdoch and his son James in testifying before Parliament next week, after the Murdochs reversed their initial "I'm too busy to testify just now" ploy.

It's striking that the company has plenty of expert help — the newly hired Edelman PR, Rubinstein Associates, and Oliver North's criminal lawyer — and yet the damage control efforts are getting noticeably worse. Murdoch, for instance, gave a combative interview to his very own Wall Street Journal, and the usually canny Murdoch comes across as very much off his game. For instance, the reporter is forced to point out that multiple people within News Corp. have said what Murdoch so baldly denies:

People close to the company have said the company has considered a separation or sale of its newspaper assets. Mr. Murdoch, who is famously devoted to the newspaper business, called such reports "pure rubbish. Pure and total rubbish....give it the strongest possible denial you can give."

When your own paper is quoting sources within your company that you then claim are false, something has gone badly wrong.

News Corp. has failed for years to get out ahead of the scandal. Is it ready to fess up and humbly admit that massive errors were made? Nope. Just hours before the CEO of his newspaper unit resigned in disgrace, "Mr. Murdoch said News Corp. has handled the crisis 'extremely well in every way possible,' making just 'minor mistakes.'" Move along now, nothing to see here.

Rebekah Brooks Resigns From Murdoch’s British Subsidiary [NYT]
Text of Rebekah Brooks’s Resignation Letter [NYT]
In Interview, Murdoch Defends News Corp. [WSJ]