Rebekah Brooks

Photograph: Carl Court/AFP c/o guardian.co.uk

Rebekah Brooks and husband Charlie

I am fascinated by Rebekah Brooks who was editor of the News of the World in 2000 and of The Sun in 2003 and who in 2009 became chief executive of News International which publishes The Sun and The Times. In those years I was having babies and bringing up young children in a country town. Brooks is, I think, three years older than me.

Brooks has had to give evidence to MPs about phone hacking and to the Leveson inquiry about her time at News International, her relationships with politicians of the day and meetings and social occasions she attended. Yesterday she, along with her husband and four others, was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, accused of removing documents from News International and concealing material from the Metropolitan Police who are investigating phone hacking claims.

Look at today’s newspaper headlines, neatly rounded up by Roy Greenslade and The Guardian.

It will now be for a jury to decide if Brooks is guilty of trying to cover anything up at her newspapers or if she is the victim, as she and her husband insist, of a witch hunt.

It is hard to see how an editor, even a former editor gone into management, would not know how certain stories in their own newspapers were stood up or proved to be true. But she and other senior folk from News Corp insist there is no evidence to suggest they knew about any malpractice.

Brooks is a striking figure who was very successful at a relatively young age within a controversial organisation, News International – part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. That has attracted as much jealousy and spite as admiration and this may now be manifesting itself as glee and determination from some quarters as people observe Brooks’ current predicament.

I understand from experience how important it is for a newspaper editor to have good relationships with the power brokers of the day. I also know what it is like to be courted by people in an industry, some in positions of power, others seeking power, when you edit an influential publication. And I know what it’s like when a journalist does something either deliberately or by mistake that someone else doesn’t like.

Libel law exists to try to police the difference between something that is untrue and will damage others by being published and something that is true and published in the public interest. Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry may change all that. Let us pass over thoughts about where the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to charge Mr and Mrs Brooks leaves David Cameron, supposedly a close friend of Charlie Brooks.

Largely I feel that in many cases, let’s say all but those involving murdered people, the journalist, editor or newspaper is just the messenger of a story and you know what they say about shooting messengers. Don’t do it.


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News for news junkies

James and Rupert Murdoch appear before MPs

What an incredible day yesterday was. Yes, a famine was being declared in parts of Somalia but here in the UK news junkies are perhaps not ashamed to admit being obsessed with live coverage of Rupert and James Murdoch appearing before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. Murdoch senior is chairman and ceo of News Corp and his son is his deputy and they are arguably the biggest media moguls on the planet. We have never heard them speak, side by side, for so long in public. It was truly fascinating.

Which meant the telly or some form of live streaming was on somewhere in the house from 2.30pm until after 7pm when Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World and The Sun and former chief executive of News Corp’s UK newspaper division News International, finished giving evidence to the same select committee.

There were the headlines: James Murdoch admitting News Corp had paid legal fees for the investigator Glen Mulcaire who hacked into phones for The News of the World; Murdoch grandstanding with a line about this being “the most humble day” of his life, before being rudely hit in the face with a plate of shaving foam from a protestor. There were also countless, repeated denials from Rupert, James and, later, Rebekah that they knew anything about the illegal interception of mobile voicemail messages including those of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. They all found out about Dowler’s phone interception two weeks ago, they said, when The Guardian broke the story.

Brooks said yes, she was on holiday at one point when Milly Dowler’s disappearance was in the news but that was “irrelevant” as she was editor of The News of the World at the time. Perhaps that is why MPs didn’t pursue a question suggested by Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who has done so much to cover the phone hacking story. Davies suggested MPs say this: “When you were editor of the NoW, you published a story which referred to a message left by a recruitment agency on the voicemail of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old schoolgirl, who was then missing without explanation. Did you read that story? Did it occur to you to question how your reporter could have known about this message?”

Many of the questions the MPs did put were batted away as being more appropriate to the ongoing police investigation into wrongdoing at the NoW; or the Murdochs, James in particular, said things had been done on the basis of legal advice News Corp was being given at the time; or James said he wasn’t at the company in 2007 when NoW reporter Clive Goodman was sentenced to four months for intercepting voice messages.

Then there were the finer points of the drama. James Murdoch saying at the outset that he would like to submit a written statement to the committee “if it pleases you” as he worked out the protocol of the occasion. Rupert Murdoch saying his son had just asked him to stop gesticulating as he temporarily stopped patting the desk as he spoke. He may be old but Murdoch Sr seems used to thumping a desk as he speaks. All TV viewers were impressed by Wendi Deng’s dual role as wife and bodyguard, landing an open slap on the perpetrator of the foam pie. She had carefully ushered Rupert into the chair directly in front of her at the beginning of the session. It’s amazing to see Murdoch family dynamics on show like this.

I’m left with a sense of how far the Murdoch myth has got away from the reality. Rupert Murdoch is a very successful media businessman. He genuinely loves newspapers. He rings the editor of the Sunday Times almost every Saturday night, he said. He rang the editor of the NoW less often, about once a month. He doesn’t have a grasp of the day to day detail of how his newspapers get put together and nor should he. He is a chairman and ceo; he employs 52,000 people around the world. James Murdoch is a smooth-talking, slightly wall-eyed individual who is good corporately.

But it is precisely because we have heard so little from the Murdochs directly over the years, save for carefully crafted speeches, that politicians and the public have imagined what they like about the Murdochs. That they are ogres. That they have no morals. On the basis of yesterday’s appearance I would say they are simply very, very successful businessmen. They and Rebekah Brooks must be incredibly certain that there is no evidence linking any of them to illegally intercepted voicemails and, without evidence, there need be no admission of guilt.

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