One day after Rupert Murdoch tried to tell the Wall Street Journal that the phone-hacking scandal that had engulfed his worldwide media empire and scuttled his planned $12 billion purchase of a British satellite company involved only “minor mistakes,” two of his top executives quit and Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was opening a criminal investigation into News Corp, the parent company of Fox News.
Rebekah Brooks, the CEO of News International (Murdoch’s politically influential British newspaper group) and the editor of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid when it reportedly hacked into the voice mail message inbox of a missing thirteen-year-old murder victim, resigned earlier in the day, while Les Hinton, an old Murdoch lieutenant who ran News International and is now the CEO of Dow Jones, stepped down this afternoon. Hinton had overseen a 2007 internal investigation into widespread phone-hacking at News of the World which failed to publicly unearth now-discovered evidence that the paper had broken into the private inboxes of more than 4,000 people, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, along with scores of prosaic celebrities. (Internal emails from that probe are now the center of a possible obstruction of justice investigation by British officials.)
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed today that the investigation had spread to this side of the pond after members of Congress — including the Republican chair of the Homeland Security Committee — asked the FBI to look into allegations that the News of the World had tried to break into the voice-mails of relatives of 9/11 victims. “There have been members of Congress in the United States who have asked us to investigate those same allegations and we are progressing in that regard using the appropriate Federal law enforcement agencies,” Holder said from Australia, which coincidentally is Murdoch’s native land.
Members of Congress have also requested that the Securities and Exchange Commission look into behavior at the company. There have also been reports that News Corp. Deputy COO James Murdcoh, the heir to the company and a supervising executive in Britain when many of the privacy invasions took place, could be prosecuted for bribery because of reports that News Corp. newspapers authorized payments to the British police. As an officer of an American company, either Murdoch could be held to account.
Rupert Murdoch also explicitly apologized to the parents of Millie Dowling, the parents of the 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered. All of these moves came shortly after News Corp. hired Edelman, a PR and crisis management firm.