News of the World’s Hack Job (Reprehensible, that’s what you are…)
The British press has a long tradition of sensationalism that almost makes The National Enquirer look like Foreign Affairs Quarterly.
Not that we’re devoid of steroidal, screech pumping media coverage here – Casey Anthony trial, anyone?
But the Brits seem to have a particular rabidity, and my guess is there are more outrageous tabloids per capita in the UK than there are in the US.
So the latest scandal involving tales of lurid “journalism” should come as no surprise.
And yet it does.
The News of The World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, has been caught up in phone hacking incidents for a number of years now. To date, it has largely involved the usual run of the celebrity mill: actors, politicians, athletes, and The Royals. A couple of Newsies have done jail time – it’s really not considered quite proper to hack into the phone-message systems of Princes William and Harry. And The News has made some settlements with hacked celebs (e.g., Sienna Miller). But the sense that The News is nasty and aggressive, but somehow vaguely within the fraying and tenuous bounds of today’s norms has to some extent been carrying the day. Perhaps not exactly legal, perhaps not exactly ethical, but somehow necessary. After all, The Public has an insatiable appetite for prurient details on the rich and famous, and that appetite must be fed.
Then came the news that they had hacked into the cell phone messages of a missing 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it…The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence. (Source: The Guardian.)
This has got to be a new low, even for one of Murdoch’s minions.
This scandal has now turned into a Parliamentary hoo-hah – among other aspects of the situation, PM David Cameron’s now-resigned media advisor, Andy Coulson, was the deputy editor of News of the World at the time of the incident. And the editor at the time, Rebekah Brooks, is now Rupert Murdoch’s chief exec in the UK. (The claim now emerging is that she was on vacation when the Dowler hacking took place, as she was when the phones of two other murdered British girls were also hacked.) (Source: The Guardian.)
While Parliament backs-and-forths on this situation, business problems are starting to rear their heads.
It turns out that the types of stunts that are good for circulation may not be so good for advertising, as:
…a string of high-profile companies – including Ford, npower, Halifax, T-Mobile and Orange – said they would be reviewing or withdrawing their advertising in the News of the World.
And regulatory approval for a Murdoch acquisition is also in jeopardy – questions are arising about whether News International (Murdoch’s umbrella outfit) is"fit and proper persons" to own BSkyB.
Brooks, meanwhile, has:
…emailed employees at News International to insist she knew nothing about phone hacking: "It is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations. I am aware of the speculation about my position.
Brooks may well be able to say, like Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing.” But, let’s face it, given the general reputation of Murdoch and his way of doing business, it is hardly “inconceivable” that Brooks knew about what was going on. In fact, it’s pretty downright conceivable.
We all understand, however, that there’s a difference between actively and directly knowing, directing, and sanctioning, and creating a “don’t tell me” culture where it’s okay, even expected, that employees will push both the ethical and legal ends of the envelope in pursuit of profit.
"Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues."
Brooks may be “determined”, but there’s certainly a
Fox fox in the henhouse aspect to her declaration.
But it’s not just Brooks and Murdoch who are reprehensible here, of course.
There’s The Public addiction to 24/7 to “news” that has nothing to do with the course of our actual lives and what most impacts them - other than that all this “news” that’s not really fit to print, or broadcast, or whatever, is drowning out reality and coarsening the culture. Not that I don’t manage to suck down my share of it, occasionally clicking through to see what Charlie Sheen is up to, and whether Cameron and A-Rod are still a duo (are they? I’m not up to date here…), rather than cleaning out a closet, reading Middlemarch, screwing in energy-efficient light bulbs or writing my congressman.
But I hadn’t been following the Casey Anthony trial all that closely. However I did see an article that mentioned a woman (I was going to say “nitwit,” but maybe she’s writing a book or a screenplay) who’d spent several thousand
…since arriving June 10 from Lake Minnetonka, Minn. She tallied more than 100 hours standing in line to wait for tickets and got into the courtroom 15 times to see Anthony.
"True crime has become a unique genre of entertainment," [Robin] Wilkie said. "Her stories are so extreme and fantastic, it's hard to believe they're true, but that's what engrosses people. This case has sex, lies and videotapes — just like on reality TV." (Source: Huffington Post.)
To borrow a line from Jerry Lewis, Hey, Laaaaady!
The Casey Anthony trial actually was reality TV.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, Rebekah Brooks still has hold of her job – however fraying and tenuous her grip may be.
Whatever the outcome, it likely won’t change the fundamental way in which the celebri-true-crime-isn’t-it-awful-tell-me-more media operate. They’ll just come up with new ways to ferret out the tidbits we crave. (Full apologies to ferrets, by the way.)
Makes me want to retreat to a wi-fi less mountaintop with a copy of Foreign Affairs. As long as they’re still, like, covering foreign policy, and not, like, the kind of foreign affairs that international celebrities may be having with each other. I’ll need to make sure they’re still plodding along, writing about Libya and the IMF…
Long overdue, but I’ve added a “bad business behavior” to my category list.
Labels: bad business behavior