Rebekah Brooks was editor of the News of the World in 2002, when the paper hacked into the voicemail of then-missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler. In pursuit of the story, News of the World deleted messages from the voicemail box, giving the girl’s family false hope that she was still alive.
Brooks, who later ascended to News International chief executive, has denied knowledge of the Dowler hacking — a contention that has struck commentators as a stretch. How would an editor with Brooks’s attention span and command for detail not know what her people were doing?
Members of Parliament this afternoon put this question to Brooks in Round 2 of the News Corp. hearings. In responding to the question “How couldn’t you have known?” Brooks showed just why Rupert Murdoch so valued this executive. She turned the whole notion straight on its head, saying:
“I don’t know of anyone in their right mind who would sanction . . . approve of listening to the voicemail of Milly Dowler in those circumstances,” she said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
So, just to paraphrase: Brooks is saying that this is such an outrage, such an act of depravity, that there’s no way she could have known about it. To have known about it, she suggested in her testimony, was to condemn it, to stop it, to abhor it.
Brooks on Friday resigned from her position as News International’s chief executive and was arrested on Sunday in connection with this whole mess.
If she could have handled the entirety of the hearings today, Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. would be home free. In the face of tough questioning, Brooks remained patient, in command of details, extremely articulate, and on message over the course of nearly two hours.
Responding to an MP’s claim that it was a myth that the phone-hacking case appeared resolved following the trials of two News of the World agents in 2007, Brooks responded: “It wasn’t a myth. It was what everyone believed at the time.”
On the question of reports that her News Corp. higher-ups tried to protect her from the Dowler slime by saying she was on vacation when the offending story hit the presses, Brooks said: “The fact is that I was away for the story they were talking about, but that’s irrelevant. It happened on my watch.”
You hear that, Rupert Murdoch?
When Brooks wasn’t dazzling the world with her aplomb, she was indicting her peers in the British news community. That is, the folks who adhere to the same — okay, maybe a bit higher — standards as the journalists formerly under her supervision. Brooks went on a tear, saying how much of the coverage of this affair has been flat wrong.
Prominent in her list of falsehoods was the notion that she had gone horseback-riding with Prime Minister David Cameron on numerous occasions. “I’ve never been horse-riding with the prime minister.” Then: “A week ago, I was asked to explain why I owned some land with the prime minister,” she said, spitting at the thought. “There’s a lot out there that just isn’t true. The truth is that he is a neighbor and a friend but I deem the relationship to be wholly appropriate.”
Heroics at the witness table notwithstanding, no one should trust Brooks’s take on what’s appropriate and inappropriate. Those are matters better left to law enforcement and Parliament.