Murdoch under Fire  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   June/July 2011

Murdoch under Fire   

Can his top assistant Rebekah Brooks survive the exploding phone hacking scandal? Posted: Wed. July 6, 2011

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


Memo to Rebekah Brooks: Polish up that résumé. Rent, don't buy. Don't send out the laundry.

Megamogul Rupert Murdoch is standing by his woman. That's not necessarily good news for Brooks.

Commenting from the media mogul summit at Sun Valley on the major phone hacking scandal that has engulfed his News of the World property as well as to reports of payoffs to police, Murdoch condemned the alleged misbehavior as "deplorable and unacceptable." He added pointedly that News Corp. will continue to cooperate with police in their proliferating investigations of his embattled empire, "under Rebekah Brooks' leadership."

Brooks is the CEO of Murdoch's News International, which includes a number of his properties, including News of the World. She also is invariably described as the great man's "confidante" or "top lieutenant." Most significant, she was editor of News of the World when the hacking took place in 2002.

Speculation about Brooks' possible beheading began moments after news emerged that the hacking festival, whose existence was already well-known, may have included the phone of a missing teenage girl, who ultimately was found murdered. News of the World personnel even were said to have deleted some messages, apparently in an effort to free up space for new ones. The alleged deletions cruelly kept alive her family's hopes that Milly Dowler was still alive and may well have hindered the police investigation.

If I were Brooks, I wouldn't take too much comfort from the boss' remarks. It sounds as definitive a kiss of death as the owner's vote of confidence in the baseball manager with a losing record.

Even by the fast and loose, anything goes approach of the British tabloids, this episode was remarkably sleazy stuff.

Murdoch is known for his iron will and his penchant for shrugging off the criticism of the respectable world. But when the prime minister takes time off during a trip to Afghanistan to call your paper on the carpet, as David Cameron did, that's pretty serious.

Murdoch had appeared to have ridden out the hacking affair, which up until now was thought to have focused on public figures, although a News of the World reporter and private detective were jailed for their conduct. But reports of the hacking of the phone of a private citizen — a 13-year-old, no less — and crime victim have elevated the contretemps to an entirely different level.

Ford, among others, has pulled its ads from News of the World, and there are calls for the government to delay action of News Corp.'s efforts to acquire British Sky Broadcasting.

Given Murdoch's role as a man so many love to hate, the schadenfreude potential for this kerfuffle is off the charts.

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