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Les Hinton Resigns: Wall Street Journal Publisher, Top Murdoch Ally Out Over Phone Hacking

Les Hinton

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 07/15/11 05:05 PM ET Updated: 09/14/11 06:12 AM ET

Les Hinton—a longtime ally and confidante of Rupert Murdoch, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal and the CEO of Dow Jones—is resigning, the paper reported Friday. His resignation is effective immediately. He becomes just the latest corporate casualty of the phone hacking crisis which has engulfed Murdoch's News Corp.

Hinton was the head of Murdoch's British newspaper division, News International, from 1995 to 2007—the period in which employees illegally hacked into thousands of peoples' voicemails. He has also been at Murdoch's side for 52 years, since he was just 15 years old.

His departure came on the same day that the current head of News International, Rebekah Brooks, also resigned. It leaves Murdoch's son James as the last major figure connected directly to the scandal-scarred division (he runs News Corp's European and Asian holdings) not to relinquish his position.

The resignations also came during a day when Murdoch and News Corp moved aggressively to strike a new tone of contrition—a contrast with Murdoch's previously cagey, combative manner. The company took out ads in British papers apologizing profusely for the misconduct at the News of the World, and Murdoch met with the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered girl whose voicemail was hacked into by the tabloid's employees.

Click here for a complete, fully updated timeline of the hacking scandal.

Hinton's troubles stemmed from his tenure as News International CEO, as well as his testimony about it to the House of Commons. In two separate appearances before the Parliament, Hinton insisted that he was "absolutely convinced" that just one reporter in the News International organization was responsible for hacking. His resignation had been widely expected; it was assumed that he could not credibly continue as the Journal's publisher in the wake of the hacking scandal and the accusations that he had mislead Parliament.

In a letter to staffers, Hinton said it was a "deeply, deeply sad day" for him, and praised Rupert Murdoch's "brilliant leadership" of News Corp, which owns the Journal.

Hinton also sent a letter to Murdoch, in which he directly addressed his reasons for resigning.

"I have seen hundreds of news reports of both actual and alleged misconduct during the time I was executive chairman of News International and responsible for the company," he wrote. "The pain caused to innocent people is unimaginable. That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp, and apologize to those hurt by the actions of the News of the World."

Murdoch himself issued a statement about the resignation, which he said he had accepted with "the heaviest of hearts." He wrote that he and Hinton had been on "a remarkable journey together for more than 52 years," and stressed that "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."

Even with Hinton's departure, major problems still remain for Murdoch and News Corp. James Murdoch, who is deeply implicated in the hacking scandal thanks to his admission that he signed off on huge out-of-court payments to the victims of phone hacking, is by no means safe in his position, and there are even rumblings that Murdoch himself may have to step down as CEO of News Corp.

In addition, the company is rumored to be thinking about selling off News International entirely.

News Corp also faces severe political pressure on two continents. The two Murdochs, as well as Rebekah Brooks, are set to appear before a decidedly unfriendly Parliamentary committee on Tuesday to give evidence about the scandal. In the United States, the FBI is conducting an investigation into allegations that News of the World employees attempted to hack the phones of 9/11 victims.

Below, read the memos from Hinton, Rupert Murdoch and Robert Thomson.

Hinton's memo:

Dear all,

Many of you will be aware by now that I resigned today from Dow Jones and News Corp. I attach below my resignation letter to Rupert Murdoch.

It is a deeply, deeply sad day for me.

I want you all to know the pride and pleasure I have taken working at Dow Jones for the past three-and-a-half years. I have never been with better, more dedicated people, or had more fun in a job.

News Corp under Rupert’s brilliant leadership has proved a fitting parent of Dow Jones, allowing us to invest and expand as other media companies slashed costs. This support enabled us together to strengthen the company during a brutal economic downturn, developing fine new products – not to mention one of the world’s great newspapers led by one of the world’s great editors, my dear friend and colleague Robert Thomson.

However difficult this moment is for me, I depart with the certain knowledge that we have built the momentum to take Dow Jones on to ever greater things.

Good luck to you all and thank you.

Les

***

Dear Rupert,

I have watched with sorrow from New York as the News of the World story has unfolded. I have seen hundreds of news reports of both actual and alleged misconduct during the time I was executive chairman of News International and responsible for the company. The pain caused to innocent people is unimaginable. That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp, and apologize to those hurt by the actions of the News of the World.

When I left News International in December 2007, I believed that the rotten element at the News of the World had been eliminated; that important lessons had been learned; and that journalistic integrity was restored.

My testimonies before the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee were given honestly. When I appeared before the Committee in March 2007, I expressed the belief that Clive Goodman had acted alone, but made clear our investigation was continuing.

In September 2009, I told the Committee there had never been any evidence delivered to me that suggested the conduct had spread beyond one journalist. If others had evidence that wrongdoing went further, I was not told about it.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to you for a wonderful working life. My admiration and respect for you are unbounded. You have built a magnificent business since I first joined 52 years ago and it has been an honor making my contribution.

With my warmest best wishes,

Les

Murdoch's memo:

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.

Thomson's Memo:

Before Les transformed the company, there were plans afoot for hundreds of editorial layoffs and Dow Jones was at the mercy of management consultants. In the most turbulent of times for “old” media, Les steered us back into profitability and made us a digital force around the world. There will be a certain amount of uncertainty in the coming days, but we should all be clear that, as Dow Jones journalists, we owe Les an enormous and irredeemable debt.
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