Big Red Passes the Buck

Rebekah Brooks speaks to the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee in London on July 19, 2011. PA Photos-AP

The way Rebekah Brooks told it, editing News of the World was an oddly aloof activity. Her testimony before Parliament describes a newsroom chain of command that other editors would not recognize.

First, there was the money. Somebody had to pay for all that hacking. So who signed off on it?

The editor "acquires" the overall editorial budget. Then, "it is given to the managing editor to allocate to different departments."

But wait. What about a big story—like covering the disappearance of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by News of the World?

How does a paper like News of the World go about reporting such a big story? "There are many layers," says Brooks patiently, "from reporter to assistant news editor to news editor." Then a subeditor "will often talk to the reporter directly, with questions and amendments…"

According to Brooks's account, at no stage in the coverage of this horrendous story did she intercede and ask, "What are the sources? Where did you get this stuff?"

Then interrogator Therese Coffey gets to the salient detail: that News of the World knew six days after Milly Dowler went missing that a message was left on her voice mail.

Were questions asked about where this information came from?

Oh, yes, says Brooks—asked of the reporter, of the news editor, and "the night editor and the lawyer would have checked them."

This is the classic shield defense. The only person on the newspaper not asking about sources is…the editor. She was on the side of the angels. "Part of the main focus of my editorship of the News of the World was convincing Parliament that there needed to be radical changes to the Sex Offenders Act," Brooks says. "If I had a particular extra involvement in any of those stories, then it would have been on the basis that I was trying to campaign for readers' rights."

For all other "investigative" activity she's nowhere to be seen. That happened down below in some den of iniquity within her newspaper.

"I don't know anyone in their right mind who would authorize, know, sanction or approve of anyone listening to the voice mails of Milly Dowler."