Who is Rebekah Brooks and why is she all over the news?

Rebekah Brooks is a British journalist and former editor of the now defunct tabloid News of the World. She is in the news lately in relation to the News International phone hacking scandal. To understand what the News International phone hacking scandal is, it is necessary to first look into what News of the World was and who owned it.

News of the World was owned by Rupert Murdoch, the man credited to have “invented” the tabloid style of journalism, the same man who created Fox News. Note that the term “tabloid” had been around long before Murdoch became a newspaperman. But it was not until Murdoch began publishing his tabloids that the word “tabloid” became synonymous with sensational crime coverage, gossip-as-news and celebrity scandals.

British journalist Dennis Potter said of Murdoch:

“There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press.”

In order to successfully run a tabloid, a publisher and editor have to be thick-skinned about invading the privacy of high-profile personalities. Tabloids are regular buyers of paparazzi photos, for instance. But in getting its scoops, and to outscoop all the competition, News of the World went farther. Over the years, it hacked into voicemails of celebrities, including England’s Prince William.

The British family complained News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and his private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were arrested, charged, pleaded not guilty and were sent to prison for a couple of months.

Murdoch announced that an internal investigation was conducted and that the hacking was not widespread. He was wrong. Or he lied. It later turned out that the hacking was widespread in a mind-blowing way. Ensuing investigation showed that there were some 4000 people in Mulcaire’s files, and some 5000 landline phone numbers and 4000 mobile phone numbers. Supermodel Elle McPherson, actress Sienna Miller, lawyers, publicists, even a Member of Parliament were among the people whose phones had been tapped.

Rebekah Brooks was editor of News of the World from 2000 to 2003. From 2003 to 2009, she was editor of The Sun, another tabloid. News of the World and The Sun were both published by News Group Newspapers Ltd, one of the three subsidiaries of News International which, in turn, is the UK publishing division of News Corporation, an American multinational mass media corporation which, although a corporation, is essentially owned by Rupert Murdoch and his family. Brooks was CEO of News International from 2009 until her resignation on July 15, 2011. Two days later, she was arrested for her role in the phone hacking operations. Meanwhile, on July 7, 2011, News of the World announced that its last issue would be published on July 10.

The obvious questions: What’s with the flurry of events in July 2011? And why was Brooks arrested in relation to the phone hacking operations when the earliest documented incident was in 2005 when Prince William’s voicemail was tapped?

Although the scandal over the phone hacking did not break until the British Royal Family complained in 2006, it later turned out that the hacking operations had been going on long before. On July 7, BBC Radio broadcast an interview made with former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan in September of the previous year. In the interview, McMullan admitted that News of the World also bribed policemen for confidential information (his claims were later documented; see here and here).

It was also in July when The Guardian published a report about the News of the World coverage of the case of Milly Dowler who went missing in March 2002 and whose body was discovered on September 2002. According to the report, after Dowler went missing, News of the World hacked into her phone. Rebekah Brooks was the News of the World editor in 2002.

Brooks was released on bail after the July 2011 arrest but was rearrested in March 2012. The latest news is that in addition to her role in the phone hacking and police bribery operations, she will also be charged with obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said she also allegedly conspired with her former assistant, Cheryl Carter, “permanently to remove seven boxes of material from the archive of News International.”

And Ms. Brooks, her husband and several of the others allegedly conspired “to conceal documents, computers and other electronic equipment” from police officers, prosecutors said.

So, who is Rebekah Brooks and why is she all over the news? It’s a much longer and more convoluted story but I tried my best to shorten it without leaving out the substance.