When Rebekah Brooks resigned amid the greatest scandal in newspaper history, many thought that would be the end of her. They were wrong, writes Suzanne Harrington.
Rebekah Brooks, the Teflon-dipped rubberised former Murdoch CEO – nothing ever sticks to her, as she continues to bounce back – is reportedly coming our way. Specifically, to Dublin, the head the media company Storyful, which was founded by Irish journalist and broadcaster Mark Little and acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 2013 for €18 million. A perfect gift for his favourite non-biological daughter.
Storyful combines digital media with journalism from around the world, verifying user-generated content, and acquiring stories so that official media channels can get at breaking news stories quickly and accurately.
Or as the Guardian put it, Storyful “sifts through all the shite out there and decides what’s slightly less shite and might form the basis of a news report”. It is an kind of interface between random citizen uploads and their official, verified versions, in response to how news gathering and reporting has changed in the digital era.
Anyway. That Rebekah Brooks is on her way to run the Dublin headquarters of Storyful – the organisation also has offices in New York and Hong Kong - has recently been reported by the BBC, RTE, Reuters, the Financial Times, the Irish Times, the Independent, the Irish Independent, the Guardian, the Journal.ie, the Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, the Irish Examiner, and dozens more.
But nobody at Storyful – either current or former employees – will comment on the appointment of Brooks. Instead, an email arrives from Newscorp’s New York office (tagline “Passionate, Principled, Purposeful”).
“Rebekah Brooks has not joined News Corp,” writes James Kennedy, the corporation’s chief communications officer.
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“There has been considerable misreporting about the subject. Rahul Chopra is, and will remain, the chief executive at Storyful.” Oh. So all those reports from reputable sources like the BBC and RTE were made up?
“Discussions are ongoing, so it is not possible to offer a detailed explanation of a position that does not yet exist,” the email continues, adding, “It’s premature to speculate.”
Yet according to the Journal.ie, Brooks has already made several visits to the Dublin office of Storyful, and media sources say that they are at the salary discussion stage.
Despite Newscorp obfuscation, we can assume that Mrs Brooks will soon be taking over, commuting from her Oxfordshire home where she lives with her husband and baby daughter, down the road from chums like David Cameron, Elizabeth Murdoch, and Jeremy Clarkson.
There was no way Rupert Murdoch was going to relinquish Brooks, either as a valued employee or de facto family member of the Murdoch clan (he already has four biological daughters from three wives, but is closest to Rebekah).
Walking through Mayfair with Brooks one day soon after the closure of the 138 year old News Of The World, which caused 280 people to lose their jobs, he was asked in the street by a journalist what his top priority was. Without hesitation, he nodded at Brooks and replied, “This one.”
Words like ‘adored’, ‘besotted’, and ‘devoted’ have been used to describe his feelings for his protégé; she is equally devoted and attentive to him, as well as sharing his passion for print media.
While Murdoch’s own son James did not emerge from the tabloid wreckage looking too clever, and Brooks’ side kick Andy Coulson ended up in jail, Brooks remained unscathed. Accused, suspected, reviled, but essentially intact.
When finally forced to resign in July 2011, it was with a $2.7 million severance payment, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and a central London office. All paid for by Rupert.
That Rebekah Brooks has people skills is like saying Genghis Khan had anger issues. Her charm is legendary. She is said to be warm, flirtatious, self effacing and shares intimacies easily and seemingly naturally.
She befriends powerful people by mimicking what they like – sailing, riding, golf. She never drinks too much, or loses control. Her ability to strategically schmooze upwards, via a combination of charm and steel, has been her most astonishing asset.
Even her employees liked her, as she used charm and praise rather than bullying to get things done – initially, at least.
She became friendly with a succession of prime ministers and their wives and families. With Sarah Brown, Brooks was having sleepovers at Chequers; yet when she betrayed Gordon and Sarah Brown by plastering the cystic fibrosis diagnosis of one of their small children all over the front page of The Sun (the Browns had already lost one child to fatal illness), they were still at her wedding to Charlie Brooks three year later.
She would play Blair and Brown off against each other, and later enjoyed a close friendship with Cameron – they used to ride together, on a horse lent to her by her allies at the Metropolitan Police. She socialised with Cameron so regularly that unlike Murdoch, she did not have to make appointments to see him in Downing Street.
She could access him across the dinner table, or out riding; their friendship has been reported as “intimate”. Such is her power, her personal magnetism, and her “galaxy-class” networking abilities - apparently “world class” doesn’t do her skills justice.
So who is she, and where does she come from? How did she become Rebekah Brooks? What made her? Her “phosphorescent” ambition is frequently cited, although it is doubtful such ambition would be remarked upon to the same degree were she male.
What is interesting about Brooks is that she remains so ambiguous. She rarely gives opinions or speaks in public. Her discreet loyalty to Murdoch is legendary.
Although a co-founder of Women In Journalism and said to be personally offended by Page Three, when she began editing The Sun when she was 34, Page Three stayed, as was Murdoch’s wishes – the first Page Three on her watch featured “Rebekah, 22, from Wapping.”
She then ran a Hands Off Page Three campaign attacking cabinet minister Clare Short, a critic of Page Three, where The Sun called the MP “fat”, “ugly”, “Short on looks” and “Short on brains.”
Born in a village outside Warrington, Cheshire in 1968, Rebekah Wade has always been deliberately opaque about her background and never speaks of her past. The only child of John and Deborah Wade, her parents divorced, and she is said to be very close to her mother.
Her father, listed on her birth certificate as a tug boat operator, and who later ran a gardening business, died from cirrhosis aged 50, just six weeks after reading in the tabloids of his only child’s engagement to Eastenders’ actor Ross Kemp in 1996.
It is well known that the children of alcoholic parents are highly adept at ‘reading’ people, at gauging mood and visual clues, and adapting themselves accordingly.
Such emotional intelligence is a survival thing – was this how Brooks developed her astonishing people skills? We’ll never know – while exposing everyone else to pitiless tabloid scrutiny, she herself remains under a permanent media blackout.
Even when she married Charlie Brooks in 2009 – having moved from an Eastender to an Old Etonian, as befitted her rise from tabloid editor to media empire CEO – there was zero paparazzi intrusion in the vicinity of her wedding party. Funny that.
(Her marriage to Charlie Brooks is said to be happy and peaceful, unlike that to Kemp, whom in 2005 she gave a fat lip and was subsequently arrested and held in custody for eight hours. Murdoch sent a chauffeured car containing a designer suit to the station, so that she could go straight to work.
He took her for dinner that night and no charges were ever pressed. At the time The Sun was running a campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence).
In terms of her background, Brooks ever never disabused anyone of the fact that she studied at the Sorbonne, although this studying apparently involved nothing more than a few evening classes. Media commentator Roy Greenslade told Vanity Fair how she never actually lied, but just “allowed myths to grow and never challenged them.”
Her interest in journalism came young. Aged 14, she was making tea at a local Warrington paper, and turned up in London in 1988 aged 20 at another now-defunct tabloid, demanding a job (which she got).
When the paper folded, she got a secretarial job at the News of the World. Piers Morgan, then its editor, remembers in his book The Inside the enthusiasm with which she oversaw the bugging of a hotel room prior to an interview with Princess Diana’s lover James Hewitt.
By 31, she was editing the News of the World, the youngest tabloid editor in Fleet Street history.
By 34, she had landed the job of Sun editorship, a job she told Sun employees she had “dreamed of since childhood”. (Which begs the question - what sort of child dreams of editing a tabloid?) And by 41, in 2009, she was running News International.
When she resigned two years later amidst the biggest scandal in newspaper history, everyone assumed that was the end of her. Back to Oxfordshire to her husband and their surrogate-born baby, to horse riding with prime ministers, and social schmoozing.
In retrospect this seemed unlikely. Someone of Brooks’ ambition and talents – some say dark arts – is hardly going to retrain as a hausfrau. Watch out, Dublin.
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