One unanswered question is on the lips of all phone hacking scandal watchers in recent days: How has News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks managed to hang on to her job? To many, the fact that Brooks, who was editor of The News of the World at the time of the alleged hacking into murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail, has clung on to her executive position while the newspaper has been closed is flabbergasting.
Brooks has received fierce criticism from Labour Leader Ed Miliband, who told BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I think it beggars belief that Rebekah Brooks is still in her post.”
But Brooks clearly has Murdoch’s backing. In an extraordinary display of public solidarity with his embattled chief executive, Murdoch went for a public walkaround with Brooks on Sunday before going for dinner at a London restaurant. When asked what his top priority was, Murdoch gestured at Brooks and said: “This one.” So, what makes her so precious to Murdoch? Or is she simply being used as a firewall to protect James Murdoch?
- Rupert won’t ‘fire’ family. Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Monday evening, Murdoch specialist Michael Woolf, contributing editor to Vanity Fair, said that Rupert Murdoch is protecting Brooks because he considers her to be part of his “family.” To illustrate their closeness, Woolf said that Brooks quit smoking after Murdoch beat her in swimming race; she promised she would give up cigarettes if she lost. Woolf added that, “[T]raditionally, when someone in News Corp is attacked by someone outside News Corp, they close ranks. They never ever fire anyone.”
- Brooks is a firebreak to protect James Murdoch. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian speculated that Brooks may be acting as a “firebreak” to protect James Murdoch from the intense media heat. “Those close to Brooks say simply that she is focused on the clean-up operation, but the argument advanced by outsiders is that she is effectively a ‘firebreak.’ If she were to resign now, attention would rapidly move to James Murdoch, and in particular his role in signing off a £700,000 settlement payment in the Gordon Taylor phone-hacking case in 2008; her presence gives public anger and external criticism a focus that helps protect the eventual succession.”
- Bookies don’t fancy Brooks’ chances. “If you care to bet on her departure, the odds of it happening by the end of this month are now 70 percent, according to Politics Markets,” informed Emma Gilbey Keller of Vanity Fair, who drafted a spoof resignation letter “in case she needs to go quickly.” The letter included observations like “Sometimes I suspect most of the media commentariat are suffering from Munchausen syndrome.”
- Daily Mash: Is Brooks kept because she knows some weapons-grade shit? “As James Murdoch closed the most successful newspaper in the western world rather than sack a devious harpie, experts said that harpie must have some weapons-grade shit up her sleeve,” joked a tongue-in-cheek spoof article in The Daily Mash. It quoted (fictional) Martin Bishop, media analyst at Madeley-Finnegan: “No-one was calling for the paper to be closed, apart from the usual Twitter monkeys. If they had sacked Brooks and waved a batch of former executives off to prison, then slowly but surely things would have returned to normal, what with the British public being, you know, idiots. I reckon there’s a refrigerated dungeon full of Brazilian kids and Rupert eats a fresh one every day.”
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