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Margaret Heffernan

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Rebekah Brooks: A Bad Case of Gatecrasher Syndrome?

Posted: 15/07/11 14:34

Why did it take Rebekah Brooks so long to resign? Did she want to stay or did Murdoch want to keep her? We may never know. But the whole saga looks to me like a bad case of gatecrasher syndrome.

Gatecrasher syndrome afflicts members of minorities who enjoy rapid advancement to the top table - but are pretty much the sole representative of their group. Think of Condoleeza Rice or Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. They're grateful to be there, desperate to fit in. Very often they don't want to be seen to be advancing the cause of others of their group - that might look like favoritism - so they remain isolated. What they think will make them successful is assimilation: fitting in so well that no one will notice that they're different. Like gatecrashers at parties, they want to blend in, fearing that otherwise they'll get thrown out.

For women, this means being as tough, ruthless driven as men - or more so. For minorities, it can mean a lot of golf and back slapping. Both are forms of protective coloration: acting like the majority so successfully that the difference disappears. The risks in such extreme assimilation is that, when it succeeds, it may bring rewards - but it also brings dependency. Sure, you can stay at the party - not because of who you are, but because of who you imitate. Someone is being successful; it just might not be you. Dependency isn't the same as power.

By all accounts, Rebekah Brooks was treated as part of the Murdoch family. But the more assimilated she became, the less able she was to see her industry and her business through any different lens. She amplified the Murdochs, she didn't and couldn't challenge or warn them. She ended up with the worst of both worlds: neither one of them nor her own woman.