It’s always tempting to cackle when the haughty and naughty fall, and Rebekah Brooks has now given us two bites at that apple. When she was arrested last summer, Twitter lit up with jeers, including “Rebekah Brooks will be allowed one phone call after her arrest. By rights, we should all be able to listen in on it,” from the British comedian Toby Hadoke. I see the same taunt this morning, now that Brooks has been arrested for a second time. The News of the World phone hacking investigation is the gift that keeps giving, unless of course you’re attached to the Murdoch media empire. Now the scandal has drawn in Brooks’ husband Charlie, an old friend of Prime Minister David Cameron who was also reportedly arrested, perhaps because of a dropped bag with a laptop. It’s as if the police, stung by accusations that some of them colluded with the phone hackers, are determined to take down as many higher-ups as they can now that they’re on the case.
Brooks is the top ranking Murdoch official to go down so far. She’s also the woman who worked her way from secretary to editor by cultivating a relationship with Murdoch in which he reportedly viewed her as a daughter (though he has four daughters of his own). With Murdoch’s son James touched by the scandal but so far uncharged, you might wonder if Brooks is the family sacrifice. But I doubt it. Not just because she has denied any knowledge of the phone hacking, but because whatever her faults and errors, she doesn’t seem like a woman who gets pushed under the bus. In a NYT profile, Sarah Lyall describes Brooks as “a supremely confident and striking figure with her shock of wild red hair, [who] looked unabashed and unperturbed” even as she was admitting to paying the police for information. That 2003 admission was a criminal offense in itself, but went unpunished because of Brooks’ dexterity in handling the questions that followed and also because her fall from power just seemed unthinkable. Maybe her connections will still get Brooks out of this scrape. But at some point figures like her become radioactive, and it’s precisely because of her status that the system will close in around her.