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Brooks Survives Phone-Hacking Scandal, So Far


At the heart of the scandal now is a woman who's been described as a tough social climber with long, flame-red hair. The woman is Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of Murdoch's News International group. And the description comes courtesy of a profile of Brooks in Britain's Independent newspaper.

Andy McSmith wrote that profile. We reached him in the paper's London newsroom, and I asked him about Rebekah Brooks, and why she inspires such loyalty from her boss.

Mr. ANDY MCSMITH (Journalist, Independent Newspaper): Partly, she is a very good journalist, which obviously would appeal to Murdoch, though I have to say there've been some other pretty good journalists have gone through the Murdoch stable who've fallen out with him. But the amazing thing about Rebekah Brooks is that she has stayed close to him all these years. She's a very good worker of a room, so when Murdoch walks into a crowded room, the first thing that happens is this flame-head gets up close to him, and then she's walking around the room with him, introducing him to people he wants to meet, making sure people he doesn't want to meet can't get too close to him. She's really, really good at that social stuff.

KELLY: Yeah. She's good at working a room. You also write at how good she is at networking within Britain's political circles. You write about how she's known for going horse riding with Prime Minister David Cameron. She was also close to former prime ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Mr. MCSMITH: That, in some ways, comes with the job. If you end up editing a Murdoch paper in this country, you - up till very recently, that was pretty well guaranteed that you would get into 10 Downing Street when you wanted to.

KELLY: So, Rebekah Brooks, very much a force to be reckoned with now in British society. You write, for example, how she was spotted in the Royal Box at Wimbledon this summer. But she started out from a much lowlier perch. She began her career as a news desk secretary. Is that right?

Mr. MCSMITH: That's right. She turned up in a little paper which lasted literally only for weeks. I think it was the shortest-lived newspaper in British history, and she was the news desk assistant on that. Then she turned up at Murdoch's headquarters in London in Wapping, doing the same sort of job. And she was still very young, and she's been there ever since.

KELLY: And she very quickly - I mean, while still in her 20s - was promoted to management and went on to edit both News of the World, the tabloid that was just shut down, and the Sun, another big Rupert Murdoch newspaper.

Mr. MCSMITH: Yeah. I mean, Murdoch has been good at picking people out in their 20s and promoting them very quickly. But the difference between her and so many others is that she has lasted.

I have to say, until, you know, two weeks ago, probably not many people in Britain had heard of her. She wasn't that well-known a figure. Now everybody knows who she is.

KELLY: Well, Andy McSmith, this scandal seems to continue to widen every day. What's your best guess over whether Rebekah Brooks will weather it?

Mr. MCSMITH: At the moment, it seems to me that Rupert Murdoch is so fond of her that he intends to protect her. I mean, we do wonder whether Murdoch is about to sell all of his British newspapers, because this scandal is so big, that the whole Murdoch brand is getting tainted over here. But he seems very keen to stick with Rebekah. He's been photographed with her in only the last couple of days. I think had it been anybody else, she would've gone.

KELLY: Andy McSmith, thanks so much.

Mr. MCSMITH: All right.

KELLY: Andy McSmith writes for the Independent newspaper.

INSKEEP: And you heard him talk about the Murdoch brand being tainted in Britain. Murdoch's News Corp. has been forced to withdraw its bid for BSkyB, a major British TV broadcaster, a major setback for Murdoch.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.