In a breathtaking response to a scandal engulfing his media empire, Rupert Murdoch moved on Thursday to close down the News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper.
As allegations mounted this week that its journalists had hacked the voicemails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to the families of Britain’s war dead, the tabloid had hemorrhaged advertising and alienated millions of readers.
Yet no one, least of all the 168-year-old paper’s staff, was prepared for the drama of a single sentence that will surely go down as one of the most startling turns in the 80-year-old Australian-born press baron’s long and controversial career.
“News International today announces that this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World,” read the preamble to a statement from Murdoch’s son James, who heads the British newspaper arm of News Corp.
Hailing a fine muckraking tradition at the paper, which his father bought in 1969, James Murdoch told its staff that the latest explosion of a long-running scandal over phone hacking by journalists had made the future of the title untenable:
“The good things the News of the World does ... have been sullied by behavior that was wrong.”
There was no immediate response from members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, which has found itself embarrassed by the avalanche of allegations this week after it gave its blessing in principle to News Corp.’s takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB.