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October 7, 2011

Rebekah Brooks: The Rise and Fall of a Female Media Mogul

The tabloid phone-tapping scandal in London has broken a last frontier for women: the corporate villain.

rebekah brooks

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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The problem with most corporate scandals as they drag on in the press is that the men at the center of them tend to be as dull as the suits they wear. Poor Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski was upstaged by his $6,000 shower curtain. The sole memorable fact about Enron's Jeffrey Skilling: his decision to abandon spectacles in favor of Lasik. Not so the delicious villainess at the center of London's astonishing News International scandal, which has seen the startling resignation of Britain's top policemen, the closing of its top tabloid newspaper, the teetering of a prime minister, a pie thrown in Parliament, and the revelation that a book containing the personal cell-phone numbers of the royal family was sold by a bodyguard for a mere 1,000 pounds (roughly $1,650).

Hollywood's brightest would be hard-pressed to come up with a better character than the grotesquely ambi-tious and phonetically spelled Rebekah Brooks. She slithered her way into the heart of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, only to be reportedly accused by his daughter Elisabeth of "fucking the company" after she allegedly oversaw the hacking of a murdered girl's cell phone while running the tabloid News of the World. (Elisabeth denies making the statement.)

Indeed, the glee with which the press pounced upon the story prompted a New York Times columnist to joke that the global media were in danger of running out of Schadenfreude. Part of the fascination with Brooks, 43, is clearly that she's a female exec — Martha aside, unusual for corporate shenanigans — and the fact that she clawed her way to the top, despite the odds.

Brooks grew up in a blue-collar family, the only child of a tugboat crewman in Cheshire, England. She skipped college, and started her career as a secretary before swiftly moving up the ladder to run News of the World and its sister publication, The Sun. She married actor Ross Kemp, and then ditched him after a tumultuous marriage in which she was once arrested for allegedly assaulting him. In 2009, she married ex — racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, and together, they have led an opulent life.

Yet when it came to the public reckoning, her confidence deserted her. Her appearance before a committee of the British Parliament was subdued, her denials of phone-hacking unconvincing. Hounded by a baying press pack, she finally resigned, clutching a $5.6 million severance check.

So what's next? Her exit package suggests that Murdoch will keep her close. Maybe she'll retire to her country home and ride horses. Or maybe, with a life story straight out of a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel, there is a book in her. Perhaps the only certainty is this: When producers get around to casting Rebekah: The Movie, the smart money is on Nicole Kidman.

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