Sky Falling, Murdoch Sacks Hacks. Game Over?
July 8, 2011
Rupert Murdoch may have finally gone too far. For decades the billionaire media baron has relentlessly amassed power on three continents. But it is worth recalling that his first move out of his native Australia—and out from under the shadow of his father, newspaper magnate Sir Keith Murdoch—came in 1969, when he snatched a very downmarket British Sunday title, the News of the World, away from Robert Maxwell. (Maxwell’s fraudulent dealings were still unsuspected, but his Czech Jewish origins were held against him by the paper’s editor, who remarked that the News of the World “was—and should remain—as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.”) In considerable decline from its heyday in the 1950s, when it sold over 8 million copies, the paper Murdoch acquired relied on a mix of kiss and tell stories—the News of the World bought Christine Keeler’s account of her involvement in the Profumo Scandal—and “investigations” of London vice dens, with the exposé typically ending with the line “I made my excuses and left.”
But it was still the biggest-selling English language paper in the world, and though Murdoch steered it even deeper into sleaze—earning him the nickname “the Dirty Digger”—the News of the World and its weekday stablemate, the Sun, which he acquired a year later, supplied the steady profits that enabled Murdoch to build his British empire. (In 2010, a terrible year in the newspaper business, the two titles reported a profit of £86 million.) So there was something not just shocking but brutal about James Murdoch’s announcement that “this Sunday will be the last issue” of the 168-year-old paper.
The immediate cause of the paper’s demise was public revulsion in Britain to the news that News of the World reporters had hacked into the mobile phone messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted on her way home from school in March 2002, but whose body wasn’t discovered for another six months.Guardian reporter Nick Davies’s disclosure that the News of the World had not only listened to messages left by Milly’s frantic friends and family but had deleted messages from her voice mailbox to keep the supply coming—creating false hope for the girl’s family and possibly destroying evidence—sparked a boycott of the paper’s advertisers and widespread denunciation. Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the hacking as “dreadful,” Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called for Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch executive who was editor of the News of the World when the murdered teenager’s phone was hacked, to resign. The Royal British Legion, the country’s largest veterans’ organization, announced it was cutting its ties with the paper after reports emerged suggesting that the phones of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan had also been hacked. Even Rupert Murdoch described the mounting scandal as “deplorable and unacceptable.”
Behind the News — July 7, 2011 08:45 PM
This Is How the World ends…
A cynical and fitting sacrifice for the News of The World
By Archie Bland
Finally it died as it has lived: in an explosion of moral piety designed to disguise actions that, in truth, were the expression of the most ruthless and inhuman business judgment. The News of the World, Britain’s most popular newspaper, was closed down today, the victim of its own reprehensibly-won success, and 200 journalists were facing up to the reality that they will need to look for another job.
It was the right thing to do, James Murdoch explained in a written statement. “Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued,” he explained, describing the culture behind the stunning series of crimes that have unfolded into public light this week to put the final cap on the phone-hacking scandal that has dogged his father Rupert’s empire for years. In order to atone for—among other sins—breaking into the voicemails of a murdered girl and deleting them to make room for more, in the process giving her family and friends false hope that she might have yet been alive, Murdoch explained that the proceeds of the final edition would be given to good causes.
“These are strong measures,” he said. “They are made humbly and out of respect. I am convinced they are the right thing to do.”