On the one hand, the largest British newspaper has been involved in a scandal involving hacking a murdered girl’s phone, hacking the phones of British terrorism victims, payoffs to members of Scotland Yard, and improper connections to prominent British politicians. It’s gotten bad enough that former editors and reporters at the paper have been arrested or even sent to jail over the scandal. And there’s talk that News Corp. could be prosecuted in the US for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribing British officials. The scandal got bad enough that News Corp. shut down the embattled tabloid that had been publishing since 1843. (As a side note, NPR’s On The Media had a fascinating story recently on how easy it is to hack mobile phone voice mail.)
On the other hand, the fact that a sleezy London tabloid has been behaving sleazily is big news? Really? I mean…. News of the World’s sister paper The Sun runs pictures of naked women on its Page 3. (No, you don’t get a link . Find it for yourself if your curious.) Should we really act surprised that these News Corp. tabloids follow no normal set of acceptable journalistic conduct? It’s like Captain Renault in Casablanca proclaiming, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
The fact that the News of the World is also owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has made this a huge story within the press. And there is a strong defense of this. After all, News Corp. is a major news organization and the third or fourth largest media corporation in the U.S. On the other hand, there are a a lot of people out there in the media business who really hate News Corporation’s newspapers and Fox News operations. As the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal (News Corp.’s most respected news outlet) put it so beautifully, “The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.” I’m not a fan of Mr. Murdoch’s, but I see the truth in what the editors at the WSJ are saying.
One thing to remember through all of this is Truth #4 – Nothing’s new: Everything that happens in the past will happen again. The behavior of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloids is nothing new. Go back to the rise of the yellow press in New York City back in the late 1800s (about the time that the modern cannons of journalism were being established), and look at the newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and William Randolph Hearst’s Evening Journal. On The Media had a fascinating story about how the World and the Journal battled over their coverage of a murder case that involved dismemberment, a love triangle, and a newspaper publisher leasing the site a murder to keep the competition out.
And finally, if you are really ‘s in this story, go directly to the U.K. Guardian’s incredible in-depth coverage.