Few public scandals seem to typify our moment in history quite like the current News of the World soap opera. Arguably the biggest purveyor of unethical and sensationalist journalism now finds itself resigned to a quick death after becoming the very focal point of a scandal now being covered by the rest of the tabloid press, amongst others. How ironic; how post-modern. Or is it now Post-post-modern? I lose track of where we are up to with our official cultural positioning, but one thing is clear, this isn’t going to be over within a matter of months.
For anyone who’s been living in a place without newspapers recently (North Pole?), the revelations that the mobile phone of the dead Milly Dowler had been ‘hacked’ by The News of the World led to a slow but steady stream of further revelations. This had not been the only hacking incident. No, siree, not by a long chalk. Also, with the news that PM David Cameron employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson at No. 10, you have to wonder exactly who knew what and how much they knew. Or perhaps some people are just incredibly stupid.
Rebekah Brooks, the editor of the paper at the time of these unsavoury and unethical deeds, denies all knowledge that this was going on under her watch. From seeing her grilling by the government committee, I actually almost believe her. At least she seemed to be taking the whole mess seriously. As for her boss, Rupert Murdoch, he looked like a man who can’t quite figure out what all the fuss is about. His media empire probably had shielded him from such complaints from the proles long ago. Some glimmer that he might actually have realised he was in DEEP SHIT seemed to cross his expressions as the weeks have gone on, culminating in a well deflected foam pie (whatever happened to good old fashioned Tiswas custard), punched aside my his incredibly good looking, young wife. I wonder whatever attracted her to the billionaire media mogul giant?
It’s certainly been quite a story. Now we’ve got reports of laptops and files being found dumped in the vicinity of Brooks’ apartment. It’s all very John Le Carre. I can imagine Hollywood script writers busy on the first draft of the film version. Nicole Kidman should be getting that phone call soon. She might need to darken that hair a bit, but they could be onto a winner there. I’m sure Matt Damon will have a job there as well; not sure what as, but you need some action in there, even if it’s nothing to do with real events.
What I am wondering is how deep this particular rabbit hole goes? While it might not all be Murdoch’s fault, unscrupulous methods have probably been in action in his media world for decades; so why now has all this scandal come out? Is there more to this than meets the eye? For years the media have had largely free reign to largely say what they want, when they want to. Parliament has rightly been uneasy about the potential for the newspapers to make or break a party during election time; and that’s the least of their power. All manner of celebrities could be subject to their brand of intrusion and revelation. Even serial killers can be turned into celebrity newspaper selling fodder; it might mean the undignified airing of every inch of dirty laundry in public, but if it sells papers, who in the press is that bothered? The News of the World has been doing this for over 160 years, since Crippen was in the news. Sometimes you could thank them for getting something out in the open- their part in the Profumo affair is legendary- but often they just provoke and ridicule the famous.
If questions are now being raised in the highest echelons of government about the power of the press, and if we consider than sometime sit is the very power of the press that keeps our politicians in check (no hiding from the media glare you would think, especially if you’re up to no good) then the outcome of this scandal could fundamentally change the way politicians operate in the media arena. Do we perversely need the media to be keeping our politicians in check and how will things be if there are strong restrictions on how far journalists can go? At the least won’t journalists be wary or even scared of the possible consequences of saying what they want; or perhaps even what they should. Will that mean an unofficial ban on the truth, lest your methods of obtaining it be brought into question?
Who’s really running the show here? Perhaps the metaphorical rats in this scenario are not the media at all, and perhaps they aren’t abandoning a sinking ship. After all is done and dusted, the Westminster ship is probably going to be still floating because none of the crew were on the ship going down; at the very least Murdoch’s ship has sprung a leak.
Also, apparently we’re never too far away from a rat, and I certainly smell one, but the thing with rats is that you normally can’t see them.