Having the British tabloids as an enemy may be political suicide, but that doesn’t mean Tony Blair gave into Murdoch’s influence. Mike Giglio on the former P.M.’s defiant testimony—and the protester who crashed the Inquiry and called Blair a ‘war criminal.’
Tony Blair took the stand at the Leveson Inquiry in London this morning, making the former prime minister the biggest political name to testify to date before the ongoing public inquiry into the British press.
Antiwar protesters gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice as former prime minister Tony Blair started to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Monday in London. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)
Blair, who dominated British politics for a decade when his Labour government was in power from 1997 to 2007, described working under threat of running afoul of the country’s powerful news empires, which he described as relentless opponents. “Once they’re against you, that’s it. It’s full on, full frontal, day in, day out—basically a lifetime commitment,” he said. “With any of these big media groups, if you fall out with them, watch out. It is literally unrelenting.”
As to how he dealt with the issue of press influence, Blair admitted that he chose to work with it, instead of trying to change it. “I took the strategic decision to manage this and not confront it,” he said. “But the power of it is indisputable.”
Blair added that political leaders in Britain “have to be in a position where you are managing this major force,” saying the prospect of taking on powerful media interests “would have been a huge battle with little change of winning.”
Tony Blair testifies before the Leveson Inquiry.
But Blair had one constant press ally during his tenure—the U.K. media empire of Rupert Murdoch, whose influence over the country’s politics has come under the spotlight as the phone-hacking scandal continues to develop. So far, the scandal has focused intense pressure on the current resident of 10 Downing Street, David Cameron, whose government has been accused of forging too close a relationship with Murdoch and his lieutenants. It was Blair, though, who famously flew to an island in Murdoch’s native Australia to address executives of Murdoch’s News Corp. in 1995, two years before the Murdoch papers switched their support to Labour ahead of Blair’s first election win. And it was Blair who became a godfather to one of Murdoch’s daughters after leaving office. On the stand today, Blair also admitted that he’d let Murdoch in through the back door for meetings at No. 10—a practice that has drawn Cameron considerable heat.
Blair was frank about his pursuit of the Murdoch press, saying he hoped to use it as a “conduit” to voters. Pressed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, the head of the inquiry, that the island visit had been part of a “charm offensive” by the aspiring prime minister, Blair admitted that this was the case. “Absolutely,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been going all the way around the world […] if it hadn’t been a very deliberate and again a very strategic decision, that I was to go and try and persuade them. The minim objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces, and the maximum objective to win their support.”
Along with embattled culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair will testify Monday in Parliament’s Leveson Inquiry, the investigation into media ethics and standards at Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Blair will be joined by Britain’s culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, who is fighting for his survival after email evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry suggested Hunt’s office had been in contact with a senior New Corp. lobbyist during the months that Hunt was deciding about News Corp.’s controversial bid to take over broadcaster BSkyB. While the Leveson Inquiry has focused the hacking allegations—and the suspected cover-up and alleged payments to police by News Corp. executives—the investigation has also zeroed in on the alleged cozy relationship between the government and News Corp. employees, which is what Blair is expected to be questioned about.
Evans, the former editor of The Times of London, testified against Rupert Murdoch in London.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Murdoch had argued for avoiding monopoly laws in the 1981 meeting with Thatcher.
One of Rupert Murdoch’s longest-standing critics got his chance to fight back against the mogul today, providing an inside account of Murdoch’s influence over his U.K. newspapers in his early days on the British media scene and launching the latest volley in a 30-year feud.
Getty Images (2)
Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of the venerable Times of London, whom Murdoch forced out after buying the newspaper in 1981, appeared via video link at the Leveson inquiry on Thursday. The inquiry has, in recent weeks, heard testimony from key players in the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Murdoch’s News of the World, including Murdoch, his son James, and his former lieutenant Rebekah Brooks. Evans described the 1981 Times takeover as a “seminal event” in Murdoch’s path to far-reaching influence over British public life. His ouster from the newspaper, Evans said, was “the saddest moment of my life.”
Evans—who is married to Tina Brown, the editor in chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and a contributor to the magazine and website—has long charged Murdoch with eliminating editorial independence at his newspapers and using the publications as a means to exert undue power over Britain’s politicians. The relationship between Murdoch and Evans quickly proved contentious after Murdoch took control of The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times, which Evans had edited for 14 years before moving to the daily after Murdoch’s takeover. In his testimony today, Evans described how he and Murdoch “almost came to fisticuffs” when Murdoch disagreed with a story published in The Times by an anti-monetarist writer. Evans resigned after only a year, over what he has long described as disagreements with Murdoch’s editorial interference. “I was disgusted, dismayed, and demoralized,” he said today.
“I believed that The Times should be open to different opinions, and he believed that it should not be,” he added.
The vitriol between the two men has festered ever since Evans’s departure from The Times. During Evans’s testimony, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, the judge leading the inquiry, cited remarks Evans made about Murdoch in 1982 that described the mogul as “evil incarnate,” and a man who “had his heart removed long ago together with all his moral faculties and human sensibilities.”
Murdoch, for his part, seemed agitated during his own Leveson testimony when the subject of Evans came up. In his questioning of the mogul, Robert Jay, the chief counsel to the inquiry, referenced passages of Evans’s memoir, Good Times, Bad Times, which claimed that Murdoch’s overbearing personality dominated his media empire and influenced everything from its endorsements to its reporting methods. "I give instructions to my editors all over the world—why shouldn't I in London?" Evans quotes Murdoch as saying in the book.
Says he and Murdoch "almost came to fisticuffs."
Former Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans testified Thursday before the Leveson Inquiry, saying the famous paper had "lost its sense of moral responsibility" when Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper in 1981. Evans said he became "disgusted, dismayed and demoralized" by the atmosphere at the Times by 1982. Evans testified that Murdoch had tried wield his influence at the paper, and, in one incident, Evans said the relationship between him and Murdoch became so sour that an argument over a piece on the economy "almost ended in fisticuffs." Evans is the husband of Newsweek and The Daily Beast's editor-in-chief Tina Brown.
Frequently commuted together.
Britain’s former Home Secretary Jack Straw testified Thursday that he and Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International, would “gossip” together when they commuted on the train. Straw said that from 2007 until 2009—the time when he was the justice secretary—he and Brooks “would talk about what was in the paper, but Straw insisted the conversations never covered anything sensitive since there were always people “earwigging.” Straw conceded that former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government and members of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire were “very, very close, sometimes incestuous”—which has been one of the chief claims by the Leveson Inquiry. Brooks was charged last week with perverting justice during the hacking investigation.
The former Queen of Fleet Street was charged with ‘perverting the course of justice.’ Peter Jukes on how Murdoch’s protégé became the first person to be charged in the hacking scandal.
Appearing with her husband, Rebekah Brooks addressed news cameras in London this evening to make her promised statement on the charges.
“Whilst I have always respected the criminal justice system, I have to question whether this decision has been made on a proper, impartial assessment of the evidence,” she said. “Although I understand the need for a thorough investigation, I am baffled by the decision to charge me. […] I cannot express my anger enough that those close to me have unfairly been dragged into this.”
Brooks went on to criticize the decision as “weak and unjust,” saying that, as the details of the case emerge, “people will see today as an expensive sideshow, and a waste of public money.”
In his own remarks, Brooks’ husband, Charlie, was equally defiant. “I feel today is an attempt to use me and others as scapegoats, the effect of which is to ratchet up the pressure on my wife, who I also believe is the subject of a witch hunt,” he said. “There are 172 police officers—about the equivalent of eight murder squads—working on this. So it doesn't surprise me that the pressure is on to prosecute, no matter how weak the cases will be.”
He went on to suggest that his wife could not receive a fair trial in Britain, an argument that has already been advanced by her attorney. “I have grave doubts that my wife will ever get a fair trial, given the volume of biased commentary which she has been subject to,” he said.
In separate statements earlier today, Brooks’ personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, and Mark Hanna, the head of security at News International, also stressed their innocence. "I have no doubt that ultimately justice will prevail and I will be totally exonerated," Hanna said.
Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive and close lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch, has been charged with perverting the course of justice, Britain's Crown Prosecution Service announced this morning. Her husband, the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, will be charged as well, along with four others.
Sang Tan / AP Photo
The chief prosecutor, Alison Levitt, said all six suspects will face perverting-the-course-of-justice charges, which are related to Scotland Yard's phone-hacking investigation. Brooks faces three separate charges, and her husband two. The others being charged are Brooks's personal assistant, Cheryl Carter; New International’s head of the security, Mark Hanna; Brooks’s chauffeur, Paul Edwards; and Daryl Josling, a security consultant. One other security consultant facing charges was not named.
The charges relate to the two weeks between July 6 and 19 of last year, during the height of the hacking scandal and Brooks’s subsequent resignation. The suspects are alleged to have conspired to have "concealed material" from police and to have removed boxes of material from News International's archives. The five named suspects are also alleged to have conspired to delete documents on computers and other electronic equipment. All these actions were related to the police investigations into phone-hacking and payment of public officials, Levitt said.
Perverting the course of justice is a common-law criminal offense in Britain that is seen as potentially more severe than phone hacking or payments to public officials, the two primary allegations rocking the British wing of Murdoch's news empire. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but according to an analysis by the legal affairs correspondent at the Guardian, the average sentence is 10 months. The last time a high-profile figure was imprisoned on such charges was in 2001, when millionaire novelist and former Conservative Party chairman Jeffrey Archer received four years in prison, relating to a 1987 libel case. If found guilty, the suspects are likely to be jailed immediately.
Brooks and her husband were arrested in dawn raids in March and were due to answer bail this morning. Both will appear before Westminister magistrates in the near future prior to their trails. Brooks scooped the story herself by condemning the charges via a statement issued just minutes before the CPS announced them. "We deplore this weak and unjust decision," she said in a joint statement with her husband. The statement said the couple would comment further later in the day, following what they called the "unprecedented posturing of the CPS."
In her remarks, Levitt predicted a "realistic prospect of conviction."
Charged with “perverting justice.”
Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch’s onetime deputy, as chief of News International, was officially charged on Tuesday with “perverting justice” in the wide-reaching phone-hacking scandal. Also charged was her husband, Charlie Brooks; the two issued a statement calling the charges a “weak and unjust decision.” Brooks, 43, was editor of the now-defunct tabloid News of the World when reporters from the paper allegedly hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. In addition to hacking, Brooks has been linked to allegations of payments to police in an attempt to cover up the hacking, and many have questioned her close relationship with those in government, including Prime Minister David Cameron.
Murdoch’s former tabloid editor gave an unrattled performance before Britain’s phone-hacking inquiry. But some of her answers may come back to haunt her.
In the end it was the dog that didn’t bite—or, perhaps, the horse that didn’t neigh.
Rebekah Brooks’s heavily-hyped testimony before the Leveson Inquiry in London yesterday proved to be fascinating but hardly the incendiary display that many observers had anticipated.
After waiting all week in hopes that the former CEO of News International—often described as Rupert Murdoch’s proxy in London—would spill enough dirt on senior politicians to threaten Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, the people outside the Royal Courts of Justice were in a festive mood. The woman who wined and dined senior members of Scotland Yard while police were investigating phone hacking at her newspapers was met outside the Royal Courts by a pantomime horse in a police helmet—a reference to the retired police horse infamously lent to Brooks, then ridden by Cameron.
Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, leaves the High Court in London after giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, May 11, 2012 (Sang Tan / AP Photo)
Decked in a $850 black dress with a white ruff and cuffs, however, Brooks dictated a more modest tone. The former tabloid editor played the part brilliantly on the stand with a mixture of the combative and the coy. During six hours of intensive cross-examination over her intimate friendships with former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, along with Cameron, Brooks gave some ground to rumors and allegations but dismissed the most serious ones and largely refused to be cornered. She also had some impromptu zingers, even accusing the counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay, of being as obsessed with gossip as any of her tabloids.
Brooks also showed a natural instinct for the next day’s headlines. Though she denied reports that David Cameron once sent her texts to the tune of as many as a dozen a day, she did reveal that he signed off his messages with “LOL,” mistakenly believing the acronym to mean “lots of love.” (Brooks added that she eventually corrected the prime minister.) The revelation created loud merriment online, with #LOLgate quickly becoming a trending hashtag on Twitter. But while the ridicule may be uncomfortable, considering all the speculation, Cameron may have considered it a relatively fortunate outcome. Betting odds on his government’s collapsing quickly fell.
There could be problems with Brooks’s testimony in the weeks to come, though. Many of her assertions may well be contested under oath by others, such as Labour M.P.s Chris Bryant and Tom Watson, and Brown, the former prime minister. The various fuzzy details in her testimony—such as the number of private holiday meetings she had with Cameron, or quite how Brown and his wife consented to the outing of their 4-year-old son’s cystic fibrosis on the front page of one of Brooks’s tabloids—may one day come into sharper focus. And the most sensitive questions surrounding Brooks—over phone hacking and payments to police and public officials by her journalists and over her alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice—could not be broached due to ongoing police investigations. Brooks has been arrested on each of those allegations but not charged.
Cameron’s government, meanwhile, is by no means in the clear. In the short term, Brooks’s most dangerous evidence to the government concerns the handling of the so-called Project Rubicon, News Corp.’s controversial $16 billion bid for the British broadcaster BSkyB, which has become more important for the moment than phone hacking or police payments. Ever since Rupert Murdoch’s email dump to the inquiry two weeks ago, which revealed what the British press has termed a “back channel” between a senior News Corp. lobbyist and the culture minister who had quasi-official authority over the bid, questions of impropriety in the BSkyB maneuverings have superseded phone hacking and illegal payments as the issue of the day. In the month’s worth of evidence still contained on Brooks’s phone when she resigned from News International was an email to her from the lobbyist Fred Michel. In it Michel said that the culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, wanted her guidance about phone hacking as he considered the BSkyB bid.
Former Murdoch deputy testifies.
Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch's former right-hand woman and the ex-chief executive of News International, testified before the high-profile Leveson Inquiry on Friday morning in London. According to Brooks, current Prime Minister David Cameron used to send her texts signed "LOL" until Brooks told the politician that the acronym did not stand for "lots of love." Brooks admitted she discussed the hacking allegations with Cameron in 2009-11, saying "on occasion" they talked about it, since "it was constant, it kept coming up." Brooks, who used to edit both the News of the World and the Sun, said she did not receive scoops from the government in return for political support. Brooks was close to current Prime Minister David Cameron’s two immediate predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but she denied reports that she received up to 12 text messages a day from Cameron.
The woman referred to as Rupert Murdoch’s “other daughter” testified before the Leveson Inquiry about her allegedly cozy relationship over the years with occupants of No. 10 Downing Street. Mike Giglio reports.
Perhaps the most damaging revelations so far have concerned not David Cameron but his chancellor, George Osborne, and his already beleaguered culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Brooks admitted that she had talked to the chancellor about details of News Corp.’s controversial bid for a majority stake in the British broadcaster BSkyB at a private dinner. Opponents have already seized on this as further evidence of an improper relationship between Cameron’s government and News Corp. in the lead-up to the deal, which had been subject to antimonopoly regulations.
HANDOUT / AFP / Getty Images via Newscom
The inquiry was also given an email dated June 27, 2011, which News Corp. lobbyist Frédéric Michel sent to Rebekah Brooks. It suggests that Hunt was directly seeking guidance about how to handle mounting phone-hacking allegations against the company in his consideration of the BSkyB bid, for which he had quasi-judicial authority. Previous emails from Michel to Hunt’s adviser, Adam Smith, caused the latter’s resignation for inappropriate contact with News Corp. Conservatives have insisted that Michel’s contacts with Hunt were exaggerated. But Brooks confirmed that she thought the email was a direct request from Hunt via Michel, making it harder for Hunt to isolate the problem to his adviser.
“[Hunt] is now starting to look into phone-hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No.10’s positioning,” the email reads. In another potentially damaging passage, Michel writes that “Hunt will be making references to phone-hacking in his statement on [the bid] this week. He will be repeating the same narrative as the one he gave in Parliament few weeks ago. This is based on his belief that the police [are] pursing things thoroughly and phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues. It’s extremely helpful.”
Hunt will appear before the inquiry early next month.
In her testimony, Brooks said that as chief executive of News International, she had played an informal role in promoting the BSkyB bid to politicians, adding that she pressed her case in conversations with both Cameron and Osborne—though she denied any improprieties. She said this was an appropriate attempt to counter the influence of what she repeatedly referred to as an “anti–Sky bid alliance” made up of rival news organizations.
“For one three-minute conversation at the beginning of dinner I got the opportunity to give our view. I don’t think that is inappropriate,” Brooks said, referring to Osborne. She insisted that Cameron, for his part, had been “even-handed” in his consideration of the bid.
Move over Rupert and James, David Cameron’s one-time spinmeister, Andy Coulson, takes the stand at the Leveson Inquiry. Peter Jukes on the media enforcer’s journey to the heart of the British government.
In terse testimony, Coulson refused to cede any ground on the myriad speculations that have surrounded him since stepping down from government as the hacking scandal was picking up steam last January. He denied that he was influenced by Rupert Murdoch while the editor of his News of the World tabloid, saying that the two spoke “irregularly,” usually on Saturday nights before publication, and that he had never been "pushed or encouraged or told" with respect to the paper’s political leanings. And though he acknowledged that he has long held Conservative leanings personally, he denied that he’d worked to help Cameron and his allies before he was asked to join their team. “We certainly weren’t against him, let’s put it that way,” was all he would concede.
Andy Coulson testifies about whether politicians and News International were too close
As to why he was hired after being forced to step down from News of the World after two of its employees went to jail for phone hacking, Coulson suggested that his experience as editor of the world’s largest English-language newspaper must have played a role. He recounted going into a meeting about the job with George Osborne, Cameron’s main political fixer then and chancellor now, “with a degree of reluctance.”
"I don't want to be obstructive, but that's a question for Mr. Osborne," Coulson said of why the Cameron team might have wanted him on board. "The conversation was very much, 'What do we need to do to get elected?'"
Coulson added that cameron had played a personal role in vetting him for his government job.
Coulson described a long-standing friendship with Rebekah Brooks, his one-time boss, and said that the two were in touch regularly while he was at the News of the World helm. “We haven’t spoken for a while, for obvious reasons,” he said.
Brooks will make her own appearance before the inquiry tomorrow.
Report claims Cameron texted Brooks day of her resignation.
The second-largest shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. admitted on Tuesday that the company’s reputation has been harmed by the hacking investigation and that he “really hopes” the scandal is “behind us.” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said that although News Corp. has “very diversified” holdings, the hacking scandal has harmed not just the print division but the company as a whole. In one of his few previous public appearances, Alwaleed said “ethics is very important” and indicated he was disappointed in former News International chief Rebekah Brooks—and she resigned the next day. Meanwhile, a new report claimed that British Prime Minister David Cameron texted Brooks the day she resigned, saying to “keep your head up.”
This week, when the Leveson Inquiry resumes in London, all eyes will be on Rebekah Brooks. Peter Jukes takes a closer look at the former Queen of Fleet Street.
In the spring of 2010, Paul McMullan found himself staking out a hoof-marked riding trail alongside some woodland near the country mansion of Rebekah Brooks, his former boss. A veteran Fleet Street journalist who’d spent much of his career at the notorious News of the World tabloid, McMullan was now hunting for a front-page shot: Brooks, one of Britain’s most powerful press players, on horseback alongside David Cameron, the man many pegged as its next prime minister.
Since taking the reins at News of the World a decade earlier, Brooks had risen to become a fearsome operator on the media scene. Now CEO of News International, Rupert Murdoch’s mighty U.K. media arm, she oversaw four of Britain’s most influential newspapers—making her a force for politicians to reckon with. McMullan was acting on a tip for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper that Brooks and Cameron often joined one another for riding jaunts. Local publicans, riders, and dog riders had told him the group could be caught some weekend mornings around dawn. A photo would suggest how Cameron and the Murdoch family’s most trusted deputy were cozying up. “That was the shot that might have changed the whole election,” McMullan says. “It could have encapsulated the idea that David Cameron was molded by the Murdochs.”
McMullan never got his photo (he says he overslept). But the Murdoch newspapers had swung their support Cameron’s way, and he emerged as the new prime minister after hotly contested elections that May. Two years later, his relationship with Brooks has become one of the most contentious topics in the phone-hacking saga rocking Britain. And with Brooks scheduled to take the stand at the public inquiry into the scandal on Friday—amid reports that she’ll release texts and emails between herself and the prime minister, reportedly up to 12 text messages a day signed off with a kiss—Cameron is finding himself increasingly drawn into the middle of the drama.
For Cameron, this threatens to snowball what has been a damaging two weeks into something worse. The Conservative Party was badly battered in Thursday’s local elections; it was announced that the U.K. had slid back into recession; and it was revealed that a senior News Corp. lobbyist may have been inappropriately close to officials in Cameron’s government as the company made a controversial bid for the majority stake in TV giant BSkyB.
Chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks is seen at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England, Oct. 6, 2009 (Jon Super / AP Photo)
What started as a scandal over phone hacking at the News of the World has now become an investigation into what could be an even bigger political scandal: the question of whether a quid pro quo may have existed between the Conservative Party, seeking the support of Murdoch’s four major papers in the U.K., in return for nodding through News Corp.’s $16 billion bid for the remainder of the most lucrative U.K. broadcaster.
Nearly a year since the scandal reached a head, much remains fuzzy about Brooks—mainly, how she was able to rise so fast. Much of the speculation has focused on her relationship with Murdoch, with Brooks deemed an “impostor daughter” to the 81-year-old mogul. But there seems to have been one undeniable feature of her rise: an uncanny ability to get close to people in power. Nowhere was that more evident than in her relationship with Cameron—which was always a dangerous prospect for any politician, and may come back to bite him in the end.
“She was a formidable enemy to have,” Labour M.P. Tom Watson, who has been leading the campaign against phone hacking in Parliament, tells The Daily Beast. “But even those who liked her knew she was a very dangerous friend.”
Brooks and Coulson called back to Parliament.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) asked the British committee investigating News Corp. to look into whether the company had broken any American laws. Murdoch was censured earlier in the week by the British Parliament and declared not “fit and proper” to run News Corp. If the Leveson Committee decides to pursue Rockefeller’s inquiry, made via a letter, it could lead to a Senate investigation—which would probably have implications for Murdoch’s American holdings, such as Fox News. Meanwhile, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson—who later went on to work for Prime Minister David Cameron—and former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks have been called to testify in front of the Leveson Committee next week.
British Prime Minister David Cameron testified before the Leveson Inquiry Thursday, saying politicians and the media have an ‘unhealthy’ relationship that lacks trust and high standards.