Murdoch deputy Rebekah Brooks takes the stand at U.K.’s Leveson inquiry

Leveson inquiry | The Guardian | The New York Times | Journalism.co.uk
Former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks is on the stand at the Leveson inquiry, and the interview is occasionally testy. Queen’s Counsel Robert Jay’s line of questioning is mostly about the events surrounding the decision of the Sun to switch its support from Britain’s Labour Party to its Conservative Party, before that country’s 2010 general election.

The Guardian has a live-blog of the hearing. Alan Cowell and John F. Burns have a good primer on Brooks’ role in this twisty affair and a summation of the testimony of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who appeared before the inquiry Thursday. Coulson was communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron until last year. Coulson’s testimony, says the Guardian, hasn’t “significantly worsened what has been Mr. Cameron’s worst political scandal since he took office two years ago on Friday.”

During his testimony on Thursday, Mr. Coulson rebutted all suggestions by Mr. Jay, that he had been a [Rupert] Murdoch protagonist at Mr. Cameron’s side and that there had been a quid pro quo involving the support in the 2010 election of Mr. Cameron and his Conservatives by The Sun, the most powerful of the Murdoch papers, and the Cameron government’s subsequent backing of Mr. Murdoch’s $12 billion bid, since abandoned, for full control of Britain’s most lucrative satellite television broadcaster, British Sky Broadcasting, or BSkyB.

Brooks told the inquiry the Sun was not a Murdoch mouthpiece: “We disagreed with quite a few things – the environment, DNA database, immigration, top-up fees, the amount of celebrity in the paper versus serious issues. We had a lot of disagreements, but in the main, on the big issues, we had similar views.”

Some of the testimony has been unintentionally hilarious: Brooks objected, for instance, to Jay’s suggestion that Cameron, a Conservative Party candidate at the time, “often popped ’round’ ” to her country house (he has one nearby): Brooks said it was more accurate to say they “occasionally met in the countryside.” There was also a discussion of how often the two texted each other: “On average once a week.” Cameron used to sign his texts “LOL,” which he thought meant “lots of love,” Brooks said. He signed them “DC” after she told him what LOL means on the Internet.

She did discuss phone hacking case with Cameron, she said. “He was interested in the latest developments and asked me about them,” she said.

Brooks told Jay about her commitment to listening to Sun readers when formulating the paper’s editorial policy, pointing in particular to her annual visits to a “caravan park,” which are British RV campgrounds. She denied that personal attacks were common at the paper, a point about which Tom Watson, who has co-authored a book about Murdoch’s news empire, tweeted in amazement. Brooks’ populism may not be a pose: British blogger Guido Fawkes points out that a dress that looks much like the one she’s wearing at the hearing is available on sale for about $14 (it has since sold out).

News Corp.’s most recent earnings statement, Joe Pompeo reported yesterday, indicated the company has spent at least $167 million so far on legal fees for various investigations regarding the News of the World.

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