After the Murdochs Rupert and James had their grilling by the Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Media and Sport yesterday, with their tense appearance punctured near the end with that pie incident, it was almost anticlimactic when Rebekah Brooks took to the stage as the closing act for the day. Alternating between claims of silence because of the criminal investigation, and outright ignorance/denial of illegal acts like phone hacking, her evidence was thin on any new information on her involvement in the phone hacking and the other allegations being leveled against News International, the UK newspaper publishing arm of News Corporation.
Some of the highlights:
— Apology: As with the Murdochs, Brooks kicked off her testimony with an apology for all the pain this scandal may have caused. From her later remarks, though, it looks as if she is making those comments from her former position as chief executive taking responsibility, rather than as someone directly involved with the acts in question.
— On the use of private investigators: She dodges the question a bit before admitting they were used by some journalists, as they are by other newspapers.
— On the Milly Dowler story that sparked the scandal: She was editor at the time of News of the World, and so she admits that she would have been involved, but in no way directly relates that to the hacking. She even at one point notes that she was not working on the days that the key story in the hacking allegations ran. (She says that her holiday time was not recorded.)
So does one believe that, or the evidence given by Brooks? “The newsroom of newspaper is based on trust,” she said. “If you think about the way a story gets published… you rely on the people that work for you to behave in a proper manner, and you rely on clarity of information that you are given at the time.”
— On her relationship with government figures: More putting the opposition Labour Party into the hotseat, and an attempt to lighten the image that she is close friends with David Cameron and therefore there is a conflict of interest from the government here. “On Prime Minister David Cameron, I read the other day that we had met 26 times. I don’t know if that is absolutely correct. I can do my best to come back to you on an exact number. I am sure that it is correct if that is what the Prime Minister’s office say. The fact is I have never been to Downing Street while David Cameron has been Prime Minister, yet under Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair, I did regularly go to Downing Street.”
— Old habits die hard: Although Brooks is now no longer a part of News International, she did work there for more than 20 years. In her testimony, something that caught my ear was her repeated references to the company as if she were still working for them today. One example: “As you know we have this management and standards committee that we set up after the police reopened their investigation in January 2011. Obviously, it was our investigation that led to the opening of that inquiry-the information that we handed over to the police,” she said in reference to the route that led to the discovery of emails from Harbottle & Lewis. That may have been just a slip of the tongue but it also underscores where Brooks still sees her allegiances to lie, when she gives her side of the story.