The phone-hacking scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's tabloid empire in Britain has taken an ominous turn with the arrest Tuesday of six people, including Rebekah Brooks, the former executive editor at “News of the World” and chief executive of News Corp. subsidiary, News International, on charges of obstruction of justice.
The beautiful, flame-haired Mrs. Brooks is now in very serious trouble and may actually face prison time, likely bringing to an end an extraordinary career and heady lifestyle.
She was a middle-class girl who started off as a secretary and soared to the top of London’s frenzied and brutal tabloid industry through sheer hard work, ruthlessness, charm, guile and drive.
What interests me about this ongoing saga is neither the alleged hacking activity nor the invasion of peoples’ privacy at all (which I find rather dreary, tiresome and sad). Instead, what fascinates me about this unfolding tale is how it seems to resemble a television mini-series -- like a modern-day, urban segment of “Masterpiece Theatre.”
Rebekah Brooks is at the center of a scandal that mixes low-brow mass circulation tabloid culture with the uppermost echelons of British politics and business circles.
Moreover, Rebekah’s husband, Charlie, is a not only a trainer of racehorses who lives in the storybook English countryside of Oxfordshire, but he is also an old Etonian (one of the most elite private schools on the planet) and close friend of none other than Prime Minister David Cameron, a man of impeccable upper-crust, blue-blood credentials.
Through her success and wide range of contacts, Rebekah also counts royalty, top business executives, sports stars and entertainment bigwigs among her circle of friends.
Indeed, the Brooks’ wedding was attended by both Cameron and former PM Gordon Brown (thereby showing Rebekah’s utter bi-partisanship, given Cameron’s testy relationship with Brown). For good measure, the Brooks couple is also close to former PM Tony Blair and his wife.
Now, however, it looks set to all crash down for Rebekah.
The scandal has not only damaged the once-invincible News Corp. media empire, but has also brought down the careers of several journalists, and even some senior police officials. We can only wonder how far and deep this scandal will eventually reach.
As for Cameron himself, the sitting Prime Minister is under fire for his close relationship with the Brooks’ and with the Murdoch family. Media sources have speculated if Murdoch (or his proxy, Rebekah) have used their access to Cameron to influence government policy in any way.
However, thus far, Cameron does not seem in any danger at all from his links to the disgraced Rebekah and the much-reviled Murdoch.
The greater backdrop here, I think, is the decline and degradation of the British aristocracy.
While Rebekah is certainly not a blue-blood, she has, by dint of her spectacular career in British media, “crashed the party,” so to speak, and become one of the beautiful people (at least for a while).
Cameron, in fact, is descended from royalty himself (he is reportedly a direct descendant of King William IV, albeit through an illegitimate affair).
But the upper-crust ain’t what they used to be.
The UK aristocracy still exists, of course, and their scandals and affairs have long been fodder for Britain’s many tabloids over the years.
Now, however, the British nobility (as well as the industrialists) have lost their monopoly on power, fame and wealth. In recent decades, entertainers, athletes, bourgeois tradesmen and others from modest backgrounds have amassed more wealth and fame than many members of the old aristocracy. (The Australian-born Murdoch -- whom nobody would mistake for nobility -- has amassed enough wealth to buy out dozens dukes and duchesses on his own.)
The Royal Family, for instance, have been reduced to celebrities who show up in the tabloids occasionally when they misbehave or say something stupid (the exception being Queen Elizabeth II, who has proudly and steadfastly refused to accede to the vulgar demands of 21stt century life).
The landscape is thus overcrowded with rich and powerful people of all stripes, thereby diluting the very notion of fame and notoriety.
As for Rebekah Brooks, she is but a footnote in the long history of British nobility, but she clearly had a front-seat in its long, slow and sad decline.
Still, I can’t wait for the Murdoch-Brooks-Cameron-News of the World movie to come out.