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News Corp Steps Up PR Response As Crisis Closes In

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Rupert Murdoch [pic courtesy of World Economic Forum]

Holmes Report 18 Jul 2011

LONDON--Two weeks into the escalating phone-hacking scandal, News Corp is visibly stepping up its PR response to the series of events that have thrown the media giant into disarray.

The Holmes Report revealed last Wednesday that Edelman is now advising News International's management and standards committee, which has been set up to oversee the company's response to the deepening crisis.

Over the weekend, it emerged that US PR consultant Steven Rubenstein - whose clients include Robert de Niro and David Letterman - had flown to London to help Rupert Murdoch prepare for his appearance in front of a parliamentary panel this week. Rubenstein's firm has handled News Corp US PR activity in the past.

It has also been reported that News Corp is seeking PR counsel in the US, to help it deal with mounting public and regulatory scrutiny. Separately, Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as News International CEO last Friday before being arrested on Sunday, has retained Bell Pottinger.

The moves may help explain the shift in News Corp's tone over the past few days. A high-profile apology ran in UK newspapers on Saturday, with Murdoch admitting "serious wrongdoing."

“I realise that simply apologising is not enough," wrote Murdoch. "Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.”

Other moves suggest that News Corp is pursuing a more conventional crisis management strategy, after being lambasted for missteps and stunts, including the decision to shutdown the News of the World tabloid.

In one belated gesture of contrition, Murdoch met with the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked by by the NotW. "He apologised many times. I don't think anybody could have held their head in their hands so many times,” said the Dowler family's lawyer Mark Lewis.

According to Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff, News Corp's search for external PR support was driven by Murdoch's son-in-law Matthew Freud. “They apparently shopped it around and everyone said the same thing: We won’t take this unless you fire Rebekah and follow the playbook,” says Wolff in the Daily Beast.

In the same article, Freud clarified that he has not handled any News Corp work since December 2009.

Brooks' departure was followed by the exit of longtime Murdoch associate, and Dow Jones CEO, Les Hinton. On Thursday, meanwhile, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch reversed thair stance on appearing in front of parliament. Both will be grilled this week.

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