Day 55, Part 1: Rebekah Brooks battled her way through a high-spending, hyper-competitive and sometimes “misogynistic” world to climb to the top of tabloid journalism, the phone hacking trial heard today.
Taking the witness stand for the first time in the four-month long trial, Mrs Brooks painted a picture of a harsh, male-dominated environment at the News of the World during the 1990s when she rose rapidly through the ranks from researcher to executive.
There was “a very small percentage of women” at the Sunday redtop and in print journalism more generally, she told the Old Bailey.
Saying she had found her colleagues had kept a file of her perceived mistakes, with the stories numbered “Twat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…”, she told the jury: “So I found that one day. It was a tough world.”
There was fierce competition at the News of the World between the news and features department – and between the Sunday paper and its daily stablemate the Sun, she said.
And she was just 25 or 26 when she was made the NoW’s features editor in 1994 – while the head of news and investigations, Alex Marunchak, and the news editor, Greg Miskiw (who has pleaded guilty to phone hacking) were in their late 30s to mid-40s.
Asked the response to her appointment, Mrs Brooks said: “There was probably a bit of old school misogyny added to the competition that would have been there if I had been a bloke or a woman.”
When she had gone into the office one Sunday or Monday to see if there had been any response from the public to a features department exclusive about the sex life of the late Conservative MP Alan Clark, she discovered that that her phone lines had been cut. “No one owned up to it, but I suspect it was the news desk,” she said.
She told the court she had co-founded a group called Women in Journalism to campaign for more female executives in Fleet Street, noting that while broadsheet papers had not appointed women editors, tabloids – despite their machismo and toughness – had a better record.
Mrs Brooks’s counsel JonathanLaidlaw QC took her through some of her early stories on the News of the World, such as when she ran a piece about the footballer Paul Gascoigne and his life Sheryl – which she said had highlighted the issue of domestic problems for a wider audience.
Turning to the paper’s buy-ups, she said they could be very expensive and involve extensive behind the scenes work.
While features editor, she said, she had made the high-stakes decision to charter a plane to fly the prostitute Divine Brown to the Nevada desert to stop her Fleet Street rivals snatching a buy-up about the actor Hugh Grant. The total cost of that buy-up was £250,000, with about $100,000 going to Brown herself, she estimated.
On becoming deputy editor of the News of the World in 1995, she would occasionally edit the paper when the editor Phil Hall was away. During these occasions, Rupert Murdoch would tend to phone her and the editor of the Sunday Times to ask: “What’s going on?” and she would fill him in on the news and any gossip.
In a face-to-face meeting in her office, the News Corp boss had advised her to work hard and keep a low profile by not giving interviews to the media – which she said she had considered to be sound advice.
After giving evidence for just over two hours, Mrs Brooks had reached her appointment by News International’s chairman Les Hinton as deputy editor of the Sun in 1998, aged 29.
Mrs Brooks, who earlier told the court she had championed serious stories at the NoW, said: “I was told by Les at the time that they wanted to make the paper less blokey.” There was also a feeling that the Sun under editor Stuart Higgins was “too trivial,” she told the court.
The trial continues.