Murdoch Aide Arrested In Hacking Scandal

The former editor of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid "News of the World" was arrested Sunday in connection with the phone hacking scandal. Also Sunday, London's top police official resigned over the scandal. Andy McSmith, a senior writer at Britain's Independent newspaper, offers his insight.

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GUY RAZ, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The phone hacking scandal in Britain has now led to the arrest of the former editor of the News of the World tabloid and the resignation of London's top police officer.

Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, stepped down today. His department has been accused of failing to properly investigate evidence that reporters illegally hacked into the voicemail boxes of hundreds of British celebrities, politicians and even murder victims. Those reporters all worked for newspapers owned by the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Today's arrest of Rebekah Brooks, the former editor, has also stunned the British public.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The most powerful woman in British newspapers, Rebekah Brooks, today arrested on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and corruption. She started to face a barrage of criticism.

RAZ: Until a few days ago, Rebekah Brooks was one of the most powerful people in British media. She was the head of News International and the trusted deputy to Rupert Murdoch. By all accounts, he treats her like his own daughter.

Andy McSmith is a senior writer for Britain's Independent newspaper. He just wrote a profile of Brooks, and he's with me on the line now from London. Andy, welcome.

ANDY MCSMITH: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: First of all, why was she arrested today? This is just two days before she's set to testify in front of a parliamentary committee.

MCSMITH: Well, now that's a good question. The form of her arrest was she was invited to present herself and be arrested. Now, normally, when suspected wrongdoers are arrested, it's because police turn up at their door first thing in the morning.

So this was a very polite arrest. And the police may be doing her a favor, because it's not at all clear now that she can be made to appear in front of a Commons committee on Tuesday. That's to be decided, but she's got a pretty good legal case to say, I can't answer questions, because I've been arrested and I might incriminate myself.

RAZ: So far, her public case has been even though things, this hacking was going on while she was editor of News of the World, she claims that she didn't know anything about it. Some people have said she's either lying or she was incompetent. Can you give us a sense of how big a deal this is in Britain? How influential is she or was she?

MCSMITH: Well, she was amazingly influential. I don't think there's any equivalent in the USA of the power of the Murdoch press here. Because, remember, two out of every five national newspapers sold in Britain was owned by Rupert Murdoch until he closed the News of the World a week ago. So this guy's put an enormous hold over the media.

RAZ: I've read her described as both ruthless and incredibly charming, somebody who on one day could call up the Prime Minster Gordon Brown and say, tomorrow, the newspaper is going to reveal to the world that your son has cystic fibrosis. Apparently, she did this just a day or two after Brown himself found out, was still coping with it. At the same time, he went to her wedding. She would hobnob with many of the people that her paper's wrote about, sometimes in a cruel way. How do you reconcile that?

MCSMITH: She was apparently a very, very charming person. So generally speaking, despite the (unintelligible) she was involved in, she was quite a popular figure. People seem to like her.

RAZ: Was she somebody widely feared?

MCSMITH: The organization, which she headed, it was very, very much feared. And so because she was head of it, they were scared of her.

RAZ: She is very close to Rupert Murdoch, also to his son James, also to the Prime Minister David Cameron. Do you think that she can drag all three of those men down with her?

MCSMITH: Yeah, it's deeply embarrassing for him. David Cameron and she used to go out horse riding together. But if he's clever, he'll pull his way out of it. I think, yes, it's possible that she could drag James Murdoch down with her if she really wanted to.

RAZ: Do you think she will spend time in prison?

MCSMITH: You know, if you'd ask me that two weeks ago, I'd have said that's absolutely unthinkable. But this thing is unfolding so fast. We've been surprised by so much that I wouldn't be surprised by anything anymore. Yes, I think it's possible.

RAZ: That's Andy McSmith. He's a senior writer for the Independent, and he's been talking to me from London about the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World. Andy McSmith, thank you so much.

Thank you very much.

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