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The Sinkable Rebekah Brooks

October 22, 2013

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As Murdoch’s red-headed editor goes on trial for hacking and corruption, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik looks at her rise and fall.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

As Murdoch’s red-headed editor goes on trial for hacking and corruption, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik looks at her rise and fall. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

In the midst of his company’s hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch headed to his London apartment and emerged with the News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, on his arm. Asked by a reporter about his priorities, Murdoch answered, “This one,” gesturing with his thumb to Brooks.

Brooks goes on trial in Britain later this month on charges of phone hacking, bribing public officials and concealing computers and documents from police. She will be alongside former colleagues, including Prime Minister Cameron’s former press officer Andy Coulson and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire. Brooks will also face criminal charges for perversion of the course of justice, along with her husband, Charlie Brooks, her former secretary, and the former security chief for News International. She, like her co-defendants, denies all charges.

Brooks, editor of Murdoch’s News of the World, then the Sun, always presented something of an enigma for those who followed her meteoric rise. In her Who’s Whoentry, she was said to have studied at the Sorbonne. (The Daily Mail reported she had only taken a short course there.) She materialized at the News of the World as a secretary and features writer. Little more than 11 years later she was, at 32, the youngest-ever editor in chief of the News of the World or of any other national newspaper.

Brooks was ambitious, mixing with the powerful and glamorous as she pinged from one top News International job to the next until she became head of the whole British wing of News Corp.

Her boldness, even impudence, tended to pay off. According to her friend Piers Morgan, Brooks prepared for an interview with the presumed lover of Princess Diana at a fancy hotel room by arranging for a team to “kit it out with secret tape devices in flowerpots and cupboards.” Another time she stole a scoop from the News of the World’s sister paper The Sunday Times by posing as a cleaner at the presses to grab an early copy of the paper and rewrite it for her own publication.

Over time, Brooks became known for her news judgment, at once calculating and impulsive. But she also became memorable for her ability to endear herself to those in positions of power. Inside News Corp, she stood alone in her ability to ingratiate herself with not just Murdoch but his adult children, too – Prudence, Lachlan, Elisabeth and James.

In 2003, when editor of the Sun, Brooks testified before a parliamentary committee. Labour MP Chris Bryant asked Brooks whether she had ever paid police for information.

Brooks replied, “We have paid the police for information in the past, yes.”

Asked whether she would do it again, Brooks said, “It depends.”

After that, Brooks refused requests by MPs to answer more questions about paying police. Several lawmakers with the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media, and Sport told reporters they decided against compelling her testimony in part because Murdoch had privately warned that her papers might retaliate by investigating their personal lives. Read more at Newsweek.

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