Another day, another series of embarrassing disclosures about David Cameron at the inquiry into British media ethics. As former News International executive Rebekah Brooks appeared at the inquiry helmed by Justice Brian Leveson on Friday, she kicked off the day poised and confident. It’s almost a certainty that, elsewhere, the British Prime Minister wasn’t feeling so cheery.
After all, Brooks edited the now shuttered News of the World and The Sun before becoming chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corporation. Her husband, Charlie Brooks, is also a longtime personal friend of Cameron’s. Much of the recent testimony at the inquiry – like that of News Corp.’s Rupert and James Murdoch, among others – has been damning for Cameron, revealing an uncomfortably close relationship between Murdoch’s media empire and Cameron’s Tory party. And while Brooks’ initially calm, collected answers to lawyer Robert Jay QC’s interrogation indicated that the line of questioning didn’t ruffle her, she did reveal details about Cameron and his party that were both embarrassing and potentially damaging.
She denied that Cameron sent her text messages up to 12 times a day – which has been a popular rumor in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal – though she admitted that they exchanged texts, particularly during campaigns. She also confessed that the Prime Minister often signed off his texts with “‘LOL’, which he took to mean as “lots of love until I told him it meant ‘laugh out loud.’” Unsurprisingly, the revelation was dubbed LOLgate and prompted a round of jokes across the internet. But while the gaffe provided an amusing twist to the testimony, it also segued into concerning disclosures.
For anyone who has been closely following the phone-hacking saga, Jay’s questions regarding correspondence by text message between Brooks and Cameron was expected. In the immediate wake of the phone-hacking scandal last summer, Brooks resigned from her position as Murdoch’s right-hand woman. It was also widely rumored that Cameron sent her a sympathetic text urging her to keep her head up.
When questioned about the correspondence after her resignation, Brooks shared, “I received some indirect messages from No. 10, No. 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office,” noting the addresses in Downing Street of Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. She added that the “head up” message from Cameron had only been received “indirectly.”
During Brooks’ marathon day of testimony she also confirmed that she and Cameron had regularly met, whether in a social or professional capacity, and she’d also had a close, friendly relationship with former-Prime Minister Tony Blair. She admitted that as a newspaper editor, politicians craved access to her.
But by the time the inquiry neared its fifth hour, Brooks seemed to tire and Jay’s questions delved deeper into her close relationship with the Tories that troublingly extended beyond friendly texts and social dinners. A few weeks ago, when James Murdoch appeared at the inquiry, I wrote about his bombshell that linked the media corporation to Cameron’s party:
James Murdoch reported that he had briefly conversed with the then-newly elected Prime Minister, David Cameron, about News Corp.’s attempt to take over the British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) company at a Christmas party of former-News Corp executive Rebekah Brooks. Even more damning, however, was a trove of emails between a News Corp. lobbyist, Frédéric Michel, and the office of conservative MP and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, the official appointed to pass judgment on the Murdoch bid for BSkyB. The emails revealed a troublingly close relationship between the two camps and suggested that the official’s office was advising the Murdochs on the take-over. One of the most damning emails submitted as evidence was from Michel to James Murdoch, wherein the lobbyist said that he had “managed to get some info” on what Hunt would say about the bid, “although absolutely illegal!”
Cameron has since denied any wrongdoing by his party over the corporate bid – although Hunt’s special adviser resigned as a direct result. But Brooks opened up a wound with her testimony Friday. She revealed that she had an “informal role” in lobbying for News Corporation’s take over of the British Sky Broadcast company, personally discussing it with the Prime Minister and George Osborne. She also provided the inquiry with an email from her Blackberry from News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel, which claimed Hunt wanted advice “to guide his and No 10’s positioning” on the issue of phone-hacking. She also testified that she and Cameron had discussed phone-hacking throughout 2009 and 2010 (though she maintained they’ve been out of contact since she resigned from News International last summer).
Certainly it’s been well-documented before her testimony that Brooks shared a close relationship with the Prime Minister. But with the reiteration of how close that relationship was, in addition to the additional evidence against Jeremy Hunt, it suggests that the criticism of Cameron is only going to intensify.