Sunday, July 17, 2011, is a day that will go down in history. The woman who was feared by prime ministers and families of murder victims alike -- Rebekah Brooks -- was toppled. Not by a mercenary, or a statesmen, or a police chief, or an investigative journalist, but by an actor, and not a particularly A-list actor at that. We've all heard about the News of the World phone hacking scandal by now, but few in the U.S. public are aware that the entire scandal lies on the bare chest (as in wire tap) of a film actor named Hugh Grant, who was, by his own admission, in the midst of a "midlife crisis."
This story rivals the most creative stories ever penned. As the drama begins, a former A-list actor, Hugh Grant, breaks down in his Ferrari on small country road in England, on his way to the Royal St. Georges golf course. The only person on the remote London road is his nemesis -- an ex-tabloid editor named Paul McMullen, who is armed with a telephoto camera. Nonetheless, with no alternative, Grant accepted a lift. During the 15-minute ride, which was a 2010 Christmas Eve horror for Grant (as exhibited by the photos McMullen took to document the event), a miracle happened. McMullen blew the whistle on hacking scandals abounding at News International, naming names that went all the way to the top of News International and included senior-level contacts in government and law enforcement.
While it is hard to imagine that the two bonded together enough to concoct a strategy to bring down News Corp, Hugh Grant did admit to McMullen at the time, "No one is going to believe this, but I must thank you for the lift and I will pop into the pub for a pint." Five months later, in April of 2011, Grant showed up at McMullen's pub, wired to "bugger the bugged," in Grant's words.
By July 17, 2011, just three short months after that pub wire tap visit -- record speed in the political arena, where change moves at the snail pace of centuries -- the Queen of News International, CEO Rebekah Brooks, resigned and was arrested (and is now out on bail). Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of Scotland Yard, resigned. Les Hinton, the CEO of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, resigned. (The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones & Co. are owned by News Corp.) Rupert Murdoch's company, News Corp., was being investigated on both sides of the pond. And British Prime Minister David Cameron had thrown the gauntlet down publicly to Rupert Murdoch, saying in front of Parliament on July 13, 2011, "The people involved, whether they were directly involved for wrongdoing, whether they sanctioned it or covered it up, however high or low they go, they must now be brought to justice. They must have no future role in running a media company in our country."
The potential ripple affect of the News of the World scandal infecting other News Corp. media companies and News Corp. stock could lie at the heart of the motive of the very quick shutdown of the 169-year-old tabloid. It makes business sense to sacrifice News of the World quickly to prevent poisoning of The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times and The Sun (all News Corp. media). At least that is how Grant sees it. Speaking on BBC's program, Question Time, on July 7, 2011, Grant called the shutdown a "very cynical managerial move," saying, "Clearly The News of the World was going out of business anyway. People were not going to buy it on Sunday. Advertisers were falling out in droves. It was a losing company."
This isn't the first time that a hacking scandal has reared its ugly head at News International. In 2003, CEO Rebekah Brooks was called before a select committee in London and admitted that, "We have paid the police for information in the past." Her communications officer, Andy Coulson, quickly interrupted her at that point to clarify that News International operated "within the code and within the law."
Four years later, in 2007, Andy Coulson, then editor of News of the World, resigned after one of his reporters was convicted of phone hacking. It was sort of a "falling up" that few of us ever experience, however. Instead of collecting unemployment, Coulson was immediately hired by Britain's Conservative Party (on July 9, 2007) and went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications in May of 2010. Coulson resigned from Cameron's team in January of 2011 and was arrested "in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking" on July 8, 2011. Coulson is currently out on bail.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates refused to reopen the hacking case two years ago and that might have been the end of it all, had Hugh Grant not decided to show up for that pint at McMullen's pub. Wearing a wire tap. Yates resigned on July 18, 2011.
News Corp.'s bid for B Sky B is likely over. But is the corporation itself as well? Will Hugh Grant ever star in a Fox Film again? Will Grant become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?
There is no predicting how far and how fast this scandal will reach. Heads are rolling across the pond, and headlines, on all of the U.S. networks, except for Fox News (owned by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.), are flashing tabloid-esque photos of the fallen and the wounded. One thing is clear. The King of Media, Rupert Murdoch, is still in power. But he is wounded. And Hugh Grant, who before his mid-life crisis might have worried about what his participation might do to his film career, is currently enjoying his role as wire-tapping, whistle-blowing bugger hero of the world.
About Natalie Pace:
Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street and the founder and CEO of the Women's Investment Network, LLC. She is a repeat guest on Fox News, CNBC, ABC-TV, Forbes.com, Sohu.com and BestEverYou.com and a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on Facebook.com/NWPace and on YouTube.com/NataliePaceDOTCOM. For more information please visit NataliePace.com.