LONDON (AP) — With the last edition of Britain’s News of the World tabloid in hand, Rupert Murdoch swooped into the U.K. on Sunday to face the growing phone-hacking scandal that prompted the paper’s closure and threatens to derail a $19 billion broadcasting deal.
Murdoch’s first order of business upon arrival was to visit the east London offices of his U.K. newspaper division, News International. The 80-year-old Murdoch arrived in the front passenger seat of a red Range Rover with a copy of the last issue of the best-selling Sunday tabloid in his hands.
He left after about an hour and a half and returned to his London apartment, where he held a meeting with Rebekah Brooks, who is head of News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper operations.
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened at both meetings. News International declined to comment on Murdoch’s movements or plans while in the U.K.
Many journalists and media watchers have expressed astonishment that Brooks, who was previously editor of News of the World when some of the hacking allegedly occurred, was keeping her current job while the paper’s employees were laid off.
Murdoch on Saturday told reporters in Sun Valley, Idaho, that Brooks had his “total” support.
Britons, meanwhile, were snapping up the last edition of the News of the World, after the 168-year-old muckraking paper was brought down in a phone-hacking scandal. Allegations the paper’s journalists paid police for information and hacked into the voicemails of young murder victims and the grieving families of dead soldiers prompted Murdoch’s News International to shut down the tabloid.
The 8,674th edition apologizes for letting the paper’s readers down, but stops short of acknowledging recent allegations that its journalists paid police for information.
“We praised high standards, we demanded high standards but, as we are now only too painfully aware, for a period of a few years up to 2006 some who worked for us, or in our name, fell shamefully short of those standards,” read a full-page editorial in the paper. “Quite simply, we lost our way. Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry.”
The developments have turned up the heat on Britain’s media industry amid concerns a police investigation won’t stop with the News of the World, and cast new scrutiny on the cozy relationship between British politicians and the tabloid press.
Murdoch, who has long been considered a kingmaker in the British media establishment, is facing a maelstrom of criticism and outrage not just over the new allegations of impropriety at his tabloid, but also the decision to shut the paper and put 200 journalists out of work.
Closing down the News of the World, which was launched Oct. 1, 1843, was seen by some as a desperate attempt by the media conglomerate to stem negative fallout and thus save its 12 billion-pound ($19 billion) deal to take over satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.
The British government has signaled that deal will be delayed because of the crisis, and the scandal has continued to unfold at breakneck pace in the media, prompting broader questions about corruption at the newspaper and media regulation in the U.K.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd