Taking responsibility saves your reputation

As the News of the World/News International phone-hacking scandal continues to rock our sensibilities, Rebekah Brooks keeps on behaving as if she were covered in vaseline. With every revelation so far, she has expressed shock or outrage.

Yesterday, in response to the discovery that phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire had Sara Payne’s mobile phone number on his hacking list, she said it was “abhorrent”, “unthinkable” and “beyond my comprehension”. Not once has she said anything to indicate she takes responsibility for wrongdoings while she was editor of the News of the World or while she was chief executive of News International.

The more we see and hear of her, the more we wonder how she hit such heights – and how she captivated Rupert Murdoch’s support so strongly that he wanted to make looking after her his priority when the crisis neared its peak.

When she appeared before the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee her answers were far from complete; many of them were oddly inarticulate for someone whose job it is to string words together to make a story. Like the Murdochs, she was over-rehearsed, under-briefed and unconvincing. She was behaving as if the whole thing were, er, beyond her comprehension.

It is beyond our comprehension that an editor would not want to set the tone and introduce policies of his or her own. It is unthinkable that the head of the paper’s parent company wouldn’t also want to set an overall tone and policy guidelines for the group. Yet, Rebecca Brooks says she didn’t know what her staff were up to when she was editor – and she didn’t know what her editors were up to when she was chief executive. And that’s exactly what Murdoch wanted: someone whose comprehension skills were so low that they would never question him.

Rupert Murdoch pushed Rebekah Brooks up his corporate ladder because she was, and still is, a yes-man. And now, when the public wants someone at the News of the World, and News International, to take responsibility, to take the blame and to express genuine contrition, she is incapable of it because she was not in charge – of either brief.

Crisis management is all about saving reputations. A golden rule is to take responsibility – and at the highest level appropriate to the crisis. In this case, it is for Rebekah Brooks to do.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Louise Mensch has been accused of taking drugs with violinist Nigel Kennedy while in her 20s and living it up as an EMI employee. We’ve been here before but the twist this time is not whether or not she inhaled; it is that she is on the Commons committee that interviewed the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks about their roles in the phone-hacking saga.

It’s another example (as with Andrew Marr’s super-injunction) of exposing others’ wrong doings while concealing your own. Except that instead of denying it (you’ll always be found out) or not saying anything (always a sign you have something to hide) Louise Mensch responded immediately and said that, while she couldn’t remember the precise occasion, it was “highly probable” that she did take drugs with Kennedy.

By taking responsibility, and telling the truth, Louise Mensch is far more likely to survive her crisis and regain her credibility than Rebekah Brooks who insists she is blame-free – but has already lost her job (though, as seems typical for News International, she might still be on the payroll) and seems unemployable outside the Murdoch empire.

If you are at the top, you must take responsibility. Your own, and your business’s, survival depend on it.

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