Rupert Murdoch's U.K. newspaper chief told David Cameron the night before a crucial political speech in 2009 that they were "professionally in this together," an inquiry revealed on Thursday, embarrassing the man who now rules Britain.
The text message to Cameron, then in opposition, from Rebekah Brooks, then the head of News Corp's British newspaper operation, was read out to the prime minister on live television during a grilling about his ties to Murdoch's media empire.
"I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a personal friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together. Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!" Brooks told Cameron in a text message the night before his party conference speech.
Testifying under oath at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, Cameron said Brooks had merely meant that they had a common interest because her Sun newspaper had come out in support of his Conservative Party ahead of the 2010 election.
But the message makes excruciating reading for Cameron as "We're all in this together" was the Conservatives' campaign slogan for that election, while "Yes he Cam" was the Sun's headline the day after he made the 2009 conference speech.
The message also shows how close Cameron once was to Brooks, who quit as head of Murdoch's British newspaper arm last year over phone-hacking by reporters and has since been charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly hiding evidence.
Cameron ordered the Leveson Inquiry last year at a time when he was under pressure to crack down on the Murdoch press because of the revelation that reporters at the News of the World tabloid had hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl.
But if Cameron had hoped the inquiry might take some heat out of the phone-hacking scandal, it has done the opposite, with week after week of revelations casting British politicians as courtiers to the News Corp king.
It has turned into slow-motion disaster for the prime minister, producing evidence that has called his personal judgment into question and deepened a rift with his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
The spectacle of a British leader answering hours of questions under oath at a time when he is grappling with a recession and the fallout from the euro zone crisis is a measure of how treacherous the scandal has become for Britain's elite.
Cameron dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" the accusation that the Conservatives had discreetly championed Rupert Murdoch's interests in return for support from his newspapers.
"Not only was there no covert deal, there was no overt deal, and there wasn't 'nods and winks,'" Cameron said, jabbing his hand forward to emphasize the point.
He rejected the suggestion that while there may have been no explicit deal, there was an unspoken and mutually beneficial agreement between his party and the Murdoch press.
"We do slightly get into sort of witchcraft trials. How do you possibly prove that you're innocent on that basis?" he said.
He was well prepared and gave evidence fluently, clasping his hands and frowning in concentration as he listened to questions from lawyer Robert Jay. This contrasted with his usually relaxed, spontaneous style, reflecting the pressure on Cameron to appear statesmanlike and authoritative.
But his efforts were undermined when Jay read out the 2009 text message from Brooks, which referred to a problem Cameron had at the time with another Murdoch paper and suggested that he and Brooks should discuss the matter "over country supper."
The phrase is embarrassing for Cameron, who used to socialize with Brooks and other powerful and wealthy people connected to Murdoch during weekends at their respective country mansions close to the picturesque town of Chipping Norton.
Revelations about these friendly encounters have been a running theme at Leveson and the circle of friends has been labeled the "Chipping Norton set."
Talk of a discussion "over country supper" also reinforces a public perception of Cameron as a man of wealth and privilege who has little understanding of ordinary voters' lives, an image he has tried very hard to counteract.
Cameron used to sign his frequent text messages to Brooks with an affectionate "LOL," which he thought stood for "lots of love," according to Brooks's own testimony at Leveson.
But the fallout from Leveson has damaged more than Cameron's image. It has also raised questions over his political judgment.
In particular, he has come under attack over his backing for a minister accused of discreetly championing News Corp's bid for full ownership of pay-TV firm BSkyB at a time when the minister was supposed to be an impartial overseer.
Another perceived error of judgment was his decision in 2007 to hire Andy Coulson, who had recently quit as News of the World editor after a reporter was sent to jail for phone-hacking, as his trusted spokesman.
When Cameron became prime minister, Coulson followed him into the heart of Number 10 Downing Street but was forced to resign in 2011 as the hacking scandal resurfaced. Coulson has since been charged with perjury over evidence he gave during a court case related to the phone-hacking affair.
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