Jacob Heilbrunn

Britain's Newspaper Scandal: Rupert Murdoch and News of the World

Something is very rotten indeed in London. Benny Morris points to the virulence of Muslim sentiment directed at Jews in London in his recent blog post. But there is another scandal that also points to the pathologies that afflict contemporary England. I'm referring of course to the villainous conduct of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid News of the World.

It's been known for awhile that celebrities, including Her Majesty's household, have been subject to phone hacking. But that it would extend to a young female kidnap victim who was murdered? And that it now appears that the relatives of the victims of terrorist bombings in London in 2005 were also subjected to such intercepts? Or that reporters may have bribed members of Scotland Yard? Even in a world that seems to have little power left to shock, this is shocking. The Telegraph reports:

Detectives from Scotland Yard’s team investigating the phone hacking scandal are in the process of contacting a “handful” of the 52 bereaved families whose names or phone numbers have appeared as part of their inquiry, sources told the Daily Telegraph.

It is thought that journalists were seeking to access voice messages left on family members’ phones as they desperately waited for information about their loved ones in the aftermath of the bombings in 2005.

It is unclear if they were aware at that stage that their relatives had died in the bombings.

The news will come as a deep shock to the relatives affected, coming as it does on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the bombings.

Indeed it will.

The degradation of the British newspaper industry is an old story. In part the industry did itself in, the victim of powerful unions that could stop the presses on a whim. Now there is hardly a serious newspaper left in the UK. It's a pity. Newspapers have functioned as a kind of informal finishing academy for many writers. It is a trade rather than a profession, though American graduate schools have tried to endow it with a patina of professionalism by awarding degrees in journalism.

But England has a serious problem. The News of the World, a Rupert Murdoch publication that has relentlessly chased the latest scoops, apparently to the extent of engaging in criminal activity, has become even more malodorous. The outcry in Britain has been widespread. Parliament is holding a three-hour debate on the matter. And Prime Minister David Cameron has voiced his repugnance for the newspaper's activities. He could hardly do otherwise. Punishment should begin but not end with the resignation from the Murdoch empire of the paper's former editor Rebekah Brooks. She is currently chief executive of News International. Whether she knew of the hacking or not (she denies it) is beside the point. Any honorable person would accept the consequences for such actions. But it is not clear that she or her superiors have any concept of honor.