the audit

Dirty Business (As Usual) at News Corporation

A golden parachute for Rebekah Brooks and surveillance of hacking victims' lawyers
November 7, 2011

You know a company has serious problems when it’s unsurprising that it gives an executive a golden parachute after her newsroom culture of industrial-scale criminality destroyed a century-and-a-half-old newspaper.

The Guardian reported this weekend that Rebekah Brooks got a $2.7 million a payoff from the Murdochs upon the ignominious exit of “this one,” topped off with two years of a limo service and an office in central London. Brooks, obviously, knows where a lot of bodies are buried.

Worse, today The Guardian reports that Brooks’s News of the World hired private investigators earlier this year to spy on hacking victims’ attorneys, in an apparent bid to blackmail them.

Evidence suggests this was part of an attempt to gather evidence for false smears about their private lives.

In particular, News Corporation appears to have found the attorney Mark Lewis threatening, and it’s easy to see why:

Separately, according to internal emails recovered by Scotland Yard, the News of the World commissioned a senior barrister to advise on whether they could injunct Lewis to stop him working for any alleged victim of phone hacking on the grounds that he had confidential information from his work for Gordon Taylor.

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The newspaper’s solicitors, Farrer and Co, wrote to Lewis threatening to injunct him if he took on any hacking clients but took no action when Lewis ignored the threat.

The internal emails also reveal that the newspaper’s lawyers tried to approach solicitors acting for Lewis’s former client Gordon Taylor to see if they could persuade him to sue Lewis.

In other words, Lewis knew what NotW had been up to because of his previous work for the ex-soccer player Gordon Taylor, and NotW tried to brush him back by threatening to sue him if he took on other clients. That didn’t work, and Rebekah Brooks’s NotW hired goons to tail him to dig up dirt.

But this thuggery is as unsurprising as Brooks’s payoff, and not just because of the rotten culture of News International and News Corp. This was not a one-off act by a company increasingly desperate to contain its scandal and coverup, it’s very similar to at least two previous reported acts:

A decade ago Brooks employed Jonathan Rees, a suspected axe-murderer convicted for planting cocaine on an innocent woman, to hack phones. When a Scotland Yard detective re-opened the axe-murder investigation for the fifth time since 1987, NotW had the detective tailed, which Brooks at least knew about after the fact (Here’s a must-hear BBC report on the axe-murder noir and NotW‘s awfully interesting connections to it).

And the NotW tailed MP Tom Watson, who’s been critical in unearthing the hacking scandal, back in 2009 when his committee’s first inquiry was under way.

That’s worth noting as Rebekah Brooks’s golden parachute unfurls.

It’s also worth noting the civility accorded Brooks by The Guardian here:

… Brooks, 43, has been given an office for the same period of time in an affluent central London area which her spokesman asked the Observer not to reveal for security reasons.

That’s some kind of nerve. But a tip of the cap to The Guardian for treating even someone like Brooks with dignity.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR’s business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.