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September 27, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:17am

John Witherow speech: Outgoing editor reveals Rupert Murdoch’s ‘soft spot’ for The Times and Sunday Times

By William Turvill

John Witherow has told staff of The Times and Sunday Times that Rupert Murdoch regards their titles as “the best newspapers in the world”.

Witherow, 70, announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down from his position as editor of The Times after nearly a decade in the job. He will now be chairman of Times Newspapers, with his successor set to be announced tomorrow.  Staff expect Tony Gallagher, Witherow’s deputy and a former editor of The Sun and Daily Telegraph, to get the job.

[UPDATE: Tony Gallagher named new editor of The Times]

In a leaving speech outside his office in the News Building, Witherow paid tribute to editors, reporters and desks across Times Newspapers. He singled out for praise “the three Rs: Robert, Rebekah and Rupert”.

He said Robert Thomson, a former Times editor who is now chief executive of News Corp, still takes a “close interest in [The Times] and lets us know when we stray”.

Rebekah Brooks is a former Sun and News of the World editor who has served as chief executive of News UK since 2015. She returned to the company after being found not guilty at trial over phone-hacking offences. “Rebekah has been outstanding since she came back as chief executive,” Witherow told staff. “She’s supported us throughout. She drove through Times Radio, which is a great success.”

Witherow concluded his 15-minute address by heaping praise on Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor and executive chairman of News Corp.

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“Finally, I would mention, of course, Rupert, who I’ve dealt with now for 28 years,” said Witherow. “And I can say with only a few exceptions and when I fully deserved it did I get a bollocking.

“He’s been great. He loves The Times and Sunday Times. He’s obviously got lots of newspapers, but he seems to have a soft spot. Because when I said to him… ‘It’s been such an honour to edit these two titles, these two great titles, for so long – and to be able to say that they were the best two serious newspapers in Great Britain’, he went: ‘No! They’re the best two newspapers in the world.’

“He’s been terrific. He’s funded us, he took the losses of The Times for many, many years. I mean, he’s owned The Times, The Sunday Times for 40 years. And he took the losses… Now we are self-sufficient, and that’s great news. And that’s down to his longevity and his belief in the titles. So that’s where we are now. I’ve loved working for him.”

Witherow concluded by telling staff that editing The Times had felt like “being in a washing machine” – “well, I’ve spun out now, I’ve dried out” – but said it had been “more fun actually than The Sunday Times”.

“As the outgoing prime minister said, ‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ I’m going to just say: Hasta luego – because I’m still going to be around.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Luke Macgregor

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