Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones & Company and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is Rupert Murdoch’s most loyal and long-standing lieutenant—and he may also be the next in line to take the fall in the company’s News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Hinton was executive chairman of News International, News Corp.’s British subsidiary, for more than a decade before Rebekah Wade Brooks ascended to the position in 2009—after she reported to Hinton for seven years as editor of both News of the World and the Sun. If Brooks resigns or is fired from News International—a move that could come as early as this week—the spotlight could turn on Hinton in New York.
Hinton, 67, is a Murdoch lifer who has held various high-ranking positions in the News Corp. organization, but he is known to loathe the sort of public attention that he so often showered on others during a career in tabloid journalism. Describing Hinton as “low profile,” a former Dow Jones executive who worked with him said, “He does not want to be profiled. He does not want to give speeches. All the times [he’s given speeches and been interviewed], it’s because Rupert wanted him to.”
Unfortunately for Hinton, the new pervasiveness of phone hacking at the now defunct News of the World, which was brought down by the scandal last week, has brought government scrutiny of him and his activities. Hinton has testified before British Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Subcommittee twice—and recent events have thrown the veracity of his testimony into question. (Through Bethany Sherman, its chief communications officer, Dow Jones declined to comment for this article.)
Born in England in 1944, Hinton moved with his family to Australia at an early age and, at 15, applied for a job at the Adelaide News, where the then-28-year-old Rupert Murdoch, who had inherited the newspaper after his father’s death, hired him as a copy boy. A source close to the News Corp. organization recalled Hinton waxing nostalgic about the days when he would “run out and get sandwiches for Murdoch when they worked together in Adelaide.”
Fifty-two years later, Hinton remains under the Murdoch umbrella, and his resume reads much like the history of News Corp. itself.
Hinton was promoted from copy boy to reporter at the Adelaide News. After a brief stint at the United Press in London, he became a reporter at the Sun. These were the only two jobs Hinton would ever hold outside of the Murdoch sphere—that is, until Murdoch acquired the Sun in 1969.
In 1976, Hinton moved from England to New York to serve as U.S. correspondent for Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain and Australia. Two years later, he became a news editor—and then managing editor—at the Star, which Murdoch founded and headquartered in New York in 1974 as a rival to the National Enquirer. When Murdoch acquired the Boston Herald in 1982, he naturally appointed Hinton the newspaper’s associate editor. In 1985, Hinton was back at the Star as its editor-in-chief.
1985 was a seminal year for Murdoch: In September of that year, the media baron became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Hinton, who had lived in the U.S. for about 10 years, followed suit. (For Murdoch, the decision was purely transactional. By law, only American citizens can own U.S. television stations. The following year, Murdoch purchased six U.S. stations and founded the Fox Broadcasting Co. For Hinton, who followed Murdoch in becoming a U.S. citizen the next year, it may have been something else. Hinton has trailed closely behind his boss in other ways. Not long after Murdoch left his longtime marriage, Hinton left his own as well.)
In 1986, Hinton made the final switch from journalist to executive. He served as an executive and then president of Murdoch Magazines and as president and CEO of News America Publishing, the American arm of Murdoch’s newspaper network. In 1993, Murdoch placed Hinton at the helm of Fox as chairman and CEO.
Hinton’s constant job hopping ended in 1995, when Murdoch sent him to London to be executive chairman of News International. He remained in this role for 12 years until Murdoch moved him back to New York to head up News Corp.’s takeover of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. “It’s noteworthy that he trusted him with the key job at Dow Jones,” said the source close to News Corp. “He is an old-style, old-school Rupert Murdoch confidant. He’s lasted a long time.” Indeed, while many of Murdoch’s top advisors have fallen by the wayside over the years as he cycled through his favorites—including former News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin and, recently, former News Corp. general counsel Lon Jacobs—Hinton has remained constantly within Murdoch’s good graces.
This scandal may test Murdoch's devotion to Hinton, though, as Hinton is tied all too closely to it.
In late June, News International internal memos from 2007 were released to Scotland Yard indicating that Clive Goodman, News of the World royal editor, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who worked with Goodman—the pair that in 2007 pled guilty to charges that they illegally intercepted messages left for Princes William and Harry—were not alone among News International employees in the hacking. Scotland Yard believes the number of possible hacking victims hovers around 4,000. It has been reported that the memos also discuss bribes made to police to get information, bribes green-lighted by Andy Coulson, News of the World editor from 2003 until he resigned in 2007 following Goodman's conviction. (Coulson went on to become director of communications for British Prime Minister David Cameron, a post he held until January of this year.) This new evidence puts Hinton and his testimony in the line of fire.
Coulson, who denied any knowledge of hacking, had an ally in Hinton. In March 2007, when he testified before Parliament during his last year as head of News International, Hinton strongly defended the editor, saying, “I believe absolutely that Andy did not have knowledge of what was going on.” Coulson was arrested last Friday on charges related to the hacking investigation.
During his 2007 testimony, Hinton also told Parliament that News of the World had conducted a full, rigorous internal inquiry and that he was absolutely convinced Goodman was the only person at the paper involved in phone hacking. In September 2009, Hinton was summoned back to Parliament upon the reopening of the hacking investigation after News International paid some $1.6 million to settle three cases involving hacking by News of the World journalists. Hinton reiterated that the internal investigation “never delivered any evidence that there had been anyone else involved” and repeatedly denied knowledge of any phone hacking beyond Goodman.
Frustrated, MP Philip Davies asked Hinton, “Whenever we have questioned anybody . . . involved at the News of the World or News International, even including very senior people such as yourself, everybody has always said they do not know and . . . they have no idea who would know . . . Who on earth would know these things?” Davies’ frustration would not be eased, as Hinton responded, “That is a fine flourish of a question, Mr. Davies, but I have answered your question: I do not know.”
Of Hinton, the former Dow Jones executive said, “He’s not an aloof, high-level, 50,000-foot manager—he’s down in the weeds. If he told Parliament that he did a very thorough investigation, there are a few scenarios: He’s lying or they did and they know a hell of a lot more than they’ll ever admit to publicly.”
For half a century, Murdoch has treated Hinton as his indispensable right hand, entrusting him with the task of steering his most prized assets. However, Murdoch is no longer dealing with an ugly company mess—he is mired in a criminal investigation. As for how far Murdoch may be willing to go to protect Hinton—and Brooks—the source close to News Corp. said, “All of these people are replaceable. Everyone is replaceable to Rupert Murdoch except himself. No one is safe at this stage.”