10 reasons why Rebekah Brooks is not a fit manager for any company
Rebekah Brooks is back in her old job as CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper operations. Here are 10 reasons why no responsible company would have appointed her.
1. By her own admission, Brooks is hopeless at oversight.
This was her defence in court, when she and her lawyers satisfied a jury that, as editor of the News of the World and then the Sun, and later as CEO of News International (now News UK), she was so unobservant and careless of detail that she completely overlooked important aspects of the activities of her staff. These failures of oversight were the more noteworthy because the company is not, by London corporate standards, a very large one, and because she knew it intimately, having worked in it at almost every rank over a period of 22 years.
2. Brooks can’t be relied on to run a law-abiding company.
Some of the staff activities of which she was ignorant were criminal.
For years, senior journalists at News International – including individuals whom she personally knew well and some whom she had promoted – engaged in illegal phone hacking on an industrial scale.
At the same time, public officials were being bribed. No fewer than 26 public officials have now been found guilty of receiving bribes from the Sun, and two journalists have been found guilty of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. Again, however, Brooks as editor and manager failed to ensure the law was observed even though she seemed to know there had been problems – in 2003, after all, she told the Commons media select committee: ‘We have paid police for information in the past.’
Though she has never been questioned about it, we should assume that she was also unaware of possible problems with the activities of Mazher Mahmood, the undercover reporter who was a senior member of her staff for years and who has since been suspended from his job after a judge suggested he had committed perjury. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently reviewing dozens of criminal trials in which Mahmood gave evidence.
3. When Brooks becomes aware of wrongdoing in her company, she prefers denial and cover-up to coming clean.
Brooks was told of the real scale of hacking at the News of the World by a senior police officer in autumn 2006, and she passed the information to other executives. Yet she stood by while those executives publicly insisted for years that it was a matter of one rogue reporter and that allegations of wider criminality were untrue.
In 2007, when the convicted and sacked former News of the World phone hacker Clive Goodman threatened to declare publicly that his superiors had known what he was up to, Brooks took him to lunch and offered him a job on the Sun because News International wanted to avoid what she was told would be a ‘potential publicity nightmare’.
And when she became CEO in September 2009, though she had known of the true scale of hacking for years, she did nothing to reverse company policy, to take action against those in the company guilty of wrongdoing or to make amends to the hundreds of victims of phone hacking.
In 2010 she agreed that the publicist Max Clifford would be paid £1m to abandon legal steps that would have made public the scale of phone hacking. She said at her trial: ‘The best policy to protect the company was confidential settlements.’ [See Peter Jukes, Beyond Contempt (Canbury, 2014) p 143]
When the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone was revealed in 2011, she dismissed it internally in writing as ‘a Guardian/BBC/old Labour hit job’.
4. Brooks has a casual way with company money.
The payment of £1m to Clifford, it was admitted in court, was made without placing on record the terms of the payment or its rationale. Asked to explain this, she said: ‘Max and I had worked together for a long time, but he didn’t feel it needed to be written down.’
She testified in court that as editor she deliberately breached the company’s £50,000 ceiling on payments she was allowed to authorise, and that she concealed what she had done by artificially splitting a payment between two parties. [Jukes, p 143]
Although the newspaper for whose budget she was responsible was paying the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire more than £100,000 a year, she was apparently unaware that he even existed.
She authorised at least £38,000 in payments to a military source without ever inquiring who the source was or whether there was a risk of law-breaking. The source, Ministry of Defence official Bettina Jordan-Barber, was later jailed for 12 months. [Jukes, p 141]
5. Brooks stands accused of workplace bullying.
A news editor who worked under Brooks, Chis Pharo, testified under oath that Brooks frequently lost her temper in the office and swore and screamed at staff. On one occasion, when presented by Pharo with a list of prospective news stories at a routine morning news conference, she screwed it into a ball, threw it in his face and screamed: ‘If you can’t produce a decent news list you can fuck the fuck off.’ She then stormed out of the room, slamming the door so hard that the handle fell off and several executives were trapped inside.
This is the same woman who was once arrested by police after an alleged assault on her own husband. (No charge was brought and she said afterwards it was a row that ‘got out of hand’.)
6. Brooks had a secret sexual relationship with a senior executive in her own company.
In some companies Brooks’s seven-year liaison with Andy Coulson could be a disciplinary matter, not for reasons of Victorian morality but because such relationships between senior executives automatically raise questions about fair dealing in internal company business, conflicts of interest and the confidentiality of information. No disciplinary action appears to have been taken.
7. Brooks has shown contempt for our democratic institutions.
Responsible citizens normally regard giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee as a civic duty – these are, after all, our elected representatives and they are investigating important matters on behalf of the nation. That duty to testify is surely all the greater if you are a senior executive in a prominent corporation. In 2010, however, as CEO of News International, Brooks refused to appear before the House of Commons media select committee no fewer than three times. A year later, oddly, she would claim: ‘Everyone at News International has great respect for Parliament and for this committee.’
8. Given her record, Brooks is poorly placed to uphold corporate ethical standards.
Like a lot of companies, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has ‘Standards of Business Conduct’ to which all executives and employees are supposed to adhere. As CEO, Brooks is ultimately responsible for enforcing those standards at News UK, a News Corp subsidiary. Here are some elements she might have difficulty lecturing subordinates about:
‘We uphold rigorous accuracy and honesty in our financial records.’
‘We treat each other fairly and with respect.’
‘We comply with all applicable laws in the countries in which we do business, and practise good citizenship.’
‘We endeavour to ensure that the workplace is free of bullying.’
‘We never give kickbacks or bribes.’
‘We are truthful in all statements submitted to the company.’
‘We avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in all our associations.’
9. Brooks may yet figure in a corporate hacking and bribing trial.
She has been interviewed and cautioned by police investigating the possible corporate prosecution of News UK in relation to hacking and bribing offences. The police file on that investigation has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will decide whether to take the company to court.
10. Brooks has never admitted responsibility for her failures and there are no grounds to believe she has reformed.
As the above shows, though Rebekah Brooks was acquitted of the crimes of which she was charged she can hardly be said to have left the court without a stain on her character. But, as David Cameron used to insist in the case of Andy Coulson, it is good to give people a second chance. Only a fool, however, gives a second chance to someone who hasn’t changed, and the first sign of change is surely that you admit you were wrong in the first place.
Brooks’s resignation statement in 2011 carefully avoided any admission of personal responsibility for any share of what had happened. ‘I want to reiterate,’ she merely said, ‘how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place.’ In other words, other people did these things without her knowledge and she regretted what they had done.
Further, the reason she gave for her departure was not that she was accepting responsibility for criminality and cover-up in the company she ran, but that other people had chosen to make her a focus of debate and this was distracting from efforts to dig the company out of the hole it was in.
She has never improved on that non-apology. There is nothing to suggest that she has learned from her experience, that she has changed, or that she is genuinely sorry for her many known mistakes and failures.