Brooks, Coulson Next Up in the Phone-Hacking Scandal Hot Seat

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For the essential backstory on Rupert Murdoch’s empire — and the scandal that’s threatening to bring it down — watch our film Murdoch’s Scandal.

Two weeks ago, the spotlight was on Rupert and James Murdoch, but this week, it’s Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson’s turn to go in front of the Leveson inquiry to answer questions about phone hacking at the now defunct British tabloid News of the World.

The two former News of the World editors are expected to be grilled about their relationships with Scotland Yard, the British government and, specifically, Prime Minister David Cameron. (The web of relationships can be explored in this interactive timeline from the BBC.)

Brooks, pictured above, was CEO of News International when the Milly Dowler phone-hacking story broke last July in The Guardian. She resigned soon after, and has since been questioned by the police a handful of times about phone hacking and the alleged bribing of police officers. Allegations have recently emerged that Prime Minster Cameron texted Brooks around the time of her resignation, telling her to to keep her head up amidst the scandal. (For more on Brooks and her rise and fall from News International grace, take a look at this February feature in Vanity Fair.)

Coulson, pictured at left, was the editor of News of the World after Brooks and headed up the paper until his royal reporter, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator were jailed for phone hacking in 2007. Soon after, he became the communications director for Britain’s Conservative Party, and was later named to the same position by David Cameron after Cameron was elected prime minister in 2010. Coulson resigned in January 2011 as phone-hacking allegations against News of the World began heating up.

Both Brooks and Coulson have consistently denied knowing anything about phone hacking in their newsrooms, and claimed that the Goodman’s actions were that of “one rogue reporter.”

But, as FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman revealed in our recent film Murdoch’s Scandal, they have previously acknowledged controversial practices by their reporters.  In the clip below, former MP Chris Bryant tells Bergman how, in 2003, he got Brooks to admit at a parliamentary hearing that her paper had paid police officers — a criminal offense in Britain. Coulson, sitting next to Brooks, quickly qualifies her statement.

Bryant also explains what happened when he pressed further — he was “monstered” by News International tabloids:

Coulson will testify tomorrow, while Brooks is scheduled to answer questions on Friday. You can watch the hearings live on the Leveson inquiry website (though, fair warning, they start at about 5 a.m. for us Americans), and download full transcripts of their testimony here. Also, we’d recommend following tweets from Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison (@Sarahlellison), NPR’s David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik), The New York Times’ Sarah Lyall (@sarahlyall) and the BBC’s Robert Peston (@Peston).

Photo: Andy Coulson in 2010. (Danny Lawson/Press Association via AP Images)
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