In our own way, we all love a little News of The World
The end of the News of the World as we know it. I can’t help but feel partly responsible. It’s not because I ever worked for the paper masquerading as a fake sheik exposing celebrity transsexuals, randy bishops and corrupt snooker stars.
It’s not because – as a writer for a News Ltd publication – I feel infected by some sort of communicable corporate unscrupulousness. It’s not even because I belong to the broad – and now broadly disgraced – field of journalism.
Nope. The real reason I feel partly culpable for the foul play of this nasty little tabloid is because I like reading about grubby celebrity scandals. And grubby celebrity scandals often require grubby journalistic tactics.
Before continuing, I should first explain that – like so many latte-slurping, pseudo-sophisticates – officially I am only interested in Serious News printed in Esteemed Organs.
This is why I only consume my tawdry celebrity updates on the sly.
So while I’d never slum it by buying anything as low-rent as the Nudes of the World outright, I invariably ditch my classic novels in dentist waiting rooms to “oh” and “my God” over some bizarre new celebrity baby name or Pippa Middleton’s bum.
I’m also an avid devourer of those broadsheet pieces which are billed as “let’s look at what the trashy media are up to” reports, but which are really just covert ways of delivering the same information themselves.
A classic example is The Sydney Morning Herald’s weekly “Stay in touch… with the gossip mags” section which parodies the glossies for their exposés of Daniel Radcliffe’s alcohol battles and Charlene Wittstock’s world’s saddest bride status.
Needless to say, all this flotsam and gossip-som is reproduced in all its titillating detail. How totally gauche! How utterly unacceptable! Now let’s see some more…
Anyway, the point is that our en masse appetite for celebrity gossip is voracious, regardless of whether we own up to it or not.
Which brings me back to the lurid exposure and closure of the News of the World.
The UK tabloid is getting a taste of its own media medicine as its discomfited executives are hounded by hungry press packs and paparazzi-d looking furtively from car windows.
Grubby skullduggery, sordid stenchiness and vile Murdoch tentacle-ism are just a few of the creative accusations being hurled at the recently euthanised Sunday paper.
But while everyone is in furious agreement about the lowness of the News of the World’s “fact”-gathering tactics, there is dispute over exactly who is to blame.
Many say the paper’s sacked staffers are whipping boys and girls for rot higher up the corporate food chain. Others claim that cowardly UK politicians are the culprits because they were desperate to pander to rather than police the tabloid attack dogs.
There’s even an argument – from Spiked online editor Brendan O’Neill – that the closure of the paper represents some sort of low, de-balling leftist blow in the culture wars.
O’Neill’s claim that “British journalism is having its cojones removed” by liberal media snobs seems a tad hysterical.
Yet his lobbying for the rights of the paper’s numerically formidable readership is interesting because it raises of the question of whether the muscular market demand for juicier and juicier journalism makes readers partly complicit in the muckraking.
Christopher Hitchens certainly thinks newspaper purchasers possess formidable power. “When reporters speak so easily of the great influence exerted on politicians by Murdoch’s papers what they really mean is by Murdoch’s readers,” he observed. “His only real knack lies in knowing what they want. And what they want are invasions of privacy – and plenty of them.”
When conceptualising the News of the World’s readership, it’s important to remember that this was not restricted to the 2.7 million Brits who physically purchased the paper every Sunday. It also included those gazillions of other folk around the world who devoured endless reports about the paper’s reports.
In 2008, the tabloid published an infamous article about the then Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile president Max Mosley under the headline “F1 Boss has Sick Nazi Orgy with Five Hookers” and the sub-head “Son of Hitler-loving fascist in sex shame”.
The story – and the subsequent court cases – received widespread international coverage, often in media outlets which declaimed the News of the World’s salaciousness in the most salacious of fashions.
Embarrassing fact: directly or indirectly, a great many of us have been guilty of enjoying the paper’s breathless revelations of celebrity AIDS cases and Olympic bong-ons.
Inconvenient truth: most of us are also aware that these stories rarely arrive on reporters’ desks via polite press releases or civilized press conferences. Instead, they tend to involve sleazy stalking, ethics-less eavesdropping, and metaphorical and literal bin rummaging.
By buying the end product, therefore, we are endorsing (or, at the very least, economically enabling) the methods of manufacture.
So what should be done?
In other sectors of society, there is a growing acceptance that ethical consumption requires facing up to the hidden histories of the goods and services we consume so lustily.
The word is now out, for instance, that eggs do not arrive – virgin birth-style – beside our rashers of breakfast bacon but may have brutal back stories which include battery farms full of featherless poultry misery and cannibalism.
We know, too, that those rashers did not arrive neatly on the planet in hermetically sealed plastic pouches but were once part of pigs which may have been raised in steel stalls too cramped to accommodate even an extra oink.
Perhaps it’s time we faced facts about the murky CVs of celebrity scoops and demanded that – like meat and eggs – such stories be farmed only via ethical and humane means.
Scandal sheets could then carry the equivalent of “free range” or “organic” labels so readers could enjoy their Shock Alien Baby Adoption stories secure in the knowledge that they were produced with a bare minimum of fraud, bribery, espionage and blatant fabrication.
Of course it would be unrealistic to insist that this spirit of transparency extend to closeted upper crust celebophiles who get secret kicks out of looking at Warnie’s lifted-looking face and Lady Gaga’s fresh-off-the-jet Mouseketeer hair.
After all, everyone knows the quality media can only bear to exhibit such images as outrageous exemplars of the types of images that should never be exhibited.
So: anyone know of any broadsheet stories condemning the tabloid coverage of Lady Gaga’s surprise gig in Sydney last week? I’m after something denouncing those terribly tacky photos of her grabbing her own guzungas.
Something that reproduces every last one of the offending images in all their unshowable glory.
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