British tabloid scandal

Murdoch in tryst with PM

July 9, 2011

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THIS WEEKEND marks the last edition of the British tabloid The News of the World. The criminal scandal and political intrigue surrounding the News, a part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, would certainly be fodder for the paper. What began as allegations of rampant phone hacking and police collusion to get celebrity gossip crossed a serious line when the News hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old murder victim. Reporters cruelly deleted voice messages of panicked family members and friends before her body was found, thereby hampering the police investigation and letting the family believe that she was somewhere alive.

Murdoch’s decision to close the tabloid is an extreme response, but one that was necessary. Sadly, it may have had more to do with politics than with preserving journalistic integrity. The News has substantial ties to Britain’s dominant Conservative Party and Prime Minister David Cameron. Former News editor Andy Coulson, who was arrested Friday, had been chief press officer for Cameron until he resigned in the wake of the hacking scandal. The calls for a parliamentary inquiry and the roiling indignation of the British public have jeopardized Murdoch’s $12 billion bid for full control of pay television company British Sky Broadcasting, which is subject to government approval. Rebekah Brooks, the former News editor who plays a major role in Murdoch’s media business, retains her job. Her fierce persona made her many enemies, but her daughterly relationship with Rupert Murdoch may have been the ultimate trump card. Some wonder whether he killed the News to save one woman.

Murdoch needed to do the ultimate in damage control, and the News was the first victim. Whatever his motivation, the unfolding drama will provide an interesting look into the relationship between the Murdoch family, tabloid journalism, and the Conservative Party. The News of the World would have loved it.