Typical. The News of the World finally has its hands on an exclusive story that the rest of the world is dying to read about, and for once it's not about Lauren Goodger's tits, Lindsay Lohan's ankle monitor or Jason Gardiner's hair transplant. Unfortunately though, it's unlikely to affect the paper's readership figures, since this is one flagship that's already sailed. Finding itself in the unfortunate position of making the news, instead of breaking it, the News of the World has been forced to shut up shop. And Rupert Murdoch must be kicking himself about the shitty timing of this super soar-away scandal.
You might not realise this, but Murdoch wasn't always a bad guy. He may have spent the last twenty years learning how to shoot lightning bolts from his fingers, but back in the 1950s he was something of a young radical. As the son of an Australian news magnate, Murdoch's first acquisition was the Adelaide News, which was pivotal in overturning the death sentence given to an Aboriginal man called Max Stuart. Despite his belief that Stuart was guilty of the rape and murder of nine year-old Mary Olive Hattam, Murdoch was opposed to the death penalty and wrote a number of editorials and headlines in support of commuting Stuart's sentence to life imprisonment.
As Murdoch's biographer Bruce Page observed, Rupert's activism in this particular case was pivotal in defining his future career: "Murdoch galloped into action, but it was a bad fight for him. The truth is it scared him off from ever taking on governments again. He reverted to his father's pattern of toeing the line." But as his power and influence grew, Murdoch realised that it's much easier to toe the line when you're the one holding the chalk.
For years, he's been the unassailable leader of the world's second largest media conglomerate (after Disney), repeatedly bouncing back from countless attacks, even those made by commentators within his own organisation. Popular Fox shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons regularly take pot-shots at their shadowy overlord, although Matt Groening did come under fire from his corporate colleagues for depicting the inexplicably popular Fox News channel as "your voice for evil".
This whole phone hacking scandal means that people like Katie may actually be innocent victims in all this. And I refuse to live in a world where Katie Price gets my sympathy.
Despite the weight of public discontent against his propagandist techniques and love of media monopolisation, Murdoch continues undaunted in his quest to seize full control of BSkyB, with the buy-out so close his forked tongue can almost taste it. So there's a delicious irony to the fact that a crucial chink in his armour has finally been exposed by one of his own bestselling red-tops.
When the News of the World's unethical practice of phone-hacking first emerged, the outcry was somewhat muted. Although people were incensed at the paper's illegal tactic for sourcing celebrity 'exclusives', no-one was able to muster too much outrage over the fact that they'd been listening to Sienna Miller's voicemails. If someone had to endure Jude Law begging for another chance, the public figured "better them than us". Similarly, no-one got too upset that Max Clifford had been bitten by the mouth he'd been feeding.
However, things took a much darker turn last week when the full scale of the scandal was exposed. According to reports, the families of Milly Dowler, the 7/7 victims and military personnel who'd been killed in service, had also had their voicemails intercepted. Interestingly, Murdoch and his chief executive Rebekah Brooks were quick to issue carefully worded statements about the scandal. But if someone declares that the allegations are "deplorable and unacceptable", is that a criticism of the phone hacking itself, or the fact that someone has had the temerity to accuse his venerable news empire of underhand practices?
Ultimately, none of it really matters, since this is clearly a case of closing the stable door after the horse has tapped in its four-digit passcode and pressed record. Since the story broke, News Corp share prices have been dropping rapidly, leaving Murdoch with no choice but to shut down the country's favourite chip-wrapper. In a statement today, James Murdoch announced that "The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself. The good things the News of the World does ... have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."
This Sunday will see the final edition of the 168-year-old newspaper hit the stands, and not a moment too soon. No doubt the Murdochs hope that this swift action will quieten the voices of discontent and smooth the passage of News Corp's satellite take-over bid. Even so, the scandal leaves us with a number of troubling issues that still need reconciling. For instance, I'd always assumed that whenever the papers ran another feature about Katie Price citing an 'unnamed source', it was Katie herself who'd been phoning the news desk to plant the story. This whole phone hacking scandal means that people like Katie may actually be innocent victims in all this. And I refuse to live in a world where Katie Price gets my sympathy.
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