What's All This Then?

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

That today is the final edition of the News Of The World probably doesn’t mean too much to most American consumers of news. They’ve heard of the scandals which apparently compelled Rupert Murdoch to pull the plug on this wide circulation tabloid - and perhaps if they’ve heard that it’s a paper that’s been published since 1843, they might take a moment to think about what that means. But newspapers have been dying in the United States like summer flies, so I doubt if too many will give it that much thought. But to this American who spent most of his formative years in England, the death of the News Of The World marks the end of an era - an event that seems to be occurring with some degree of regularity in the old country.

I don’t know what Murdoch hopes to gain - or to avoid - by shutting down the paper that is at the center of a scandal that has rocked the British public like none than I can recall in recent history,but what he has done is kill off a piece of the British Isles. He has committed Tabloidicide and there needs to be an appropriate punishment dreamed up for this Australian news muckraker.

England has been the home of tabloids for as long as I can remember. We have a few here, but none are considered to be "real" newspapers the way so many Englishmen were persuaded to believe they were reading when they opened the pages of the Daily Mirror or one of the three evening papers that were around when I was a kid - the Star, News and Standard. And on Sunday of course there was the News Of The World - or as we used to call it - the Sunday Scandal. Before Murdoch got his grubby hands on this venerable tabloid it was a different kind of newspaper. It didn’t have the power to elect or bring down politicians. It didn’t have a team of reporters hacking people’s phones in order to get juicy stories - no matter who the stories might harm. In the days I’m talking about, there were no computers to hack or cell phones to track. It was a sleepier time.

What we looked forward to - if you can think of that expression as how we readers of News Of The World felt as we picked up our copy on a Sunday morning, was who got nabbed for what and what happened to them. The paper was filled with the kind of "news" that you didn’t read during the week in the Telegraph or the Guardian - newspapers that also began their lives in the eighteen hundreds. It was "news" of - mostly - petty crime. Theft. Burglary. Domestic dispute. Prostitution. I can’t remember all the topics that were covered. I haven’t seen a copy of that paper in decades. But they were all that kind of reporting - with what defendants said and what judges said and who got off and who didn’t. And yes, there was other stuff in the paper but it was known for its round-up of crime stories. All pre-Murdoch of course. He acquired the paper and promptly began to turn it into something un-British. It took him years, but his particular brand of poison finally grew powerful enough to be fatal.

Things change of course. One can’t expect everything to stay the same decade after decade. But what is sickening is the kind of change that tends to alter the very character of a nation. I’ve noticed those changes in England as I’ve visited the old country over the years. and I’ve written about them here. The influx of immigrants who didn’t adapt to society but expected society to adapt to them. The tea shops that no longer served TEA! English Bobbies wearing TURBANS! But one thing that seemed to continue to be as traditional as the British stiff upper lip was the availability of the British tabloids. The old Daily Mirror was there every time I looked for it. Of course it’s on line now like most other newspapers - but the print version continues - the same today as it was when I was a kid going to school at Haberdasher’s Aske’s Hampstead Public School. And so it was with the News Of The World. It’s mission and its content had been poisoned by Murdoch - but there was always hope that it would one day break free and once again perform the necessary service of keeping the British public aware of who did what to whom and what the Right Honorable Justice Whatsisname said about it all. And now it’s gone forever and there is no forgiveness possible for Rupert Murdoch.

The latest news reports have Murdoch arriving in England where his son might be arrested for whatever responsibility he might have had for the actions of the editors and reporters of the News Of The World. To my mind, his presence there provides an opportunity for Scotland Yard to exact what measure of vengeance may be possible from this devil in news sheet clothing. Arrest HIM The senior Murdoch. . Stick him in the Tower of London in a cell with radio and television sets that can’t be turned off, playing endless recordings of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. No trial of course. That would be a waste of Crown money. But offer him a deal. He can get out any time. All he has to do is order the death of one of his other properties. Shut down Fox "News." It’s not a fair exchange for what he’s done to the News Of The World but we’ll take it as a down payment.