Sensational Fleet Street is the foundation of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.'s global media empire, so tawdry allegations that his News of the World tabloid hacked the cellphone of a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002 provide more than a crack in its corporate underpinning.
The Brits revel in juicy sleaze dished out about celebs, politicos and footballers, but reports that News of the World intercepted messages left on Milly Dowler’s phone by her desperate family and then deleted some of them when the mailbox became full -- giving false hope that she was alive -- are beyond the pale.
Worse for Rupe: the intercepts took place under the watch of then News of the World editor and now head of News Corp’s British operation, Rebekah Brooks.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who has strong ties to Murdoch, took time out today during a visit with soldiers in Afghanistan and a meeting with PM Hamid Karzai to call the Dowler affair a “truly dreadful situation.” He said police “should investigate this without any fear, without any favor, without any worry where the evidence should lead them.”
The PM was a guest at the reception of Brooks' wedding reception in 2009 and enjoyed private parties with Murdoch when he headed the Conservative Party.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband joined the fray today, suggesting Brooks should “consider her conscience and consider her position” after the disclosures. Ford Motor added to the pressure, suspending advertising in News of the World until it completes a probe of the hacking. Brooks, for her part, is “aware of speculation about her position.”
She is hanging tough -- for now. In a memo to staffers, Brooks said she is "determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues."
Meanwhile, Murdoch’s pride and joy, New York Post, is being sued by the Sofitel hotel maid who accused former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape. She filed a libel suit today after the Post reported over the weekend that she was a prostitute.
And so it goes at News Corp. Is this the legacy wanted by the 80-year-old Murdoch? Son and heir apparent, James, has his work cut out.