Sometimes you wonder if Rupert Murdoch’s empire could get any viler, and then, sure as the sun will rise in the morning and The Sun will have boobies on page three (NSFW), it always does.
Today, it’s not a false-propaganda-spouting Fox News talking head, it’s the News of the World hacking scandal, which just got several orders of magnitude worse for Murdoch’s News Corporation.
That all the affected so far in the hacking scandal are celebrities has been one of the key problems in getting people interested in the fact that people on Murdoch’s payroll systematically violated the privacy of thousands of people. The tabloid media culture, Murdoch’s wheelhouse, has turned celebrities into nonpeople undeserving of basic dignity and decency, and anyone who buys rags like the News of the World (or, say, US or Star, or who watches TMZ) is complicit in this. On some level, tabloid readers—and Murdoch built his global media empire on their legions— understand this and rationalize it by calling it a tradeoff for being rich and famous. Translated to this scandal, it’s something like “Yes, it’s skeevy that Murdoch’s people hacked into people’s phones, but Sienna Miller and Prince William are rich public figures, not regular folks.”
But Milly Dowler—now that’s a different story.
Dowler, a thirteen-year-old from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, went missing in the spring of 2002 on her way home from school. Six months later she was found murdered, dumped naked in the woods.
As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World was listening and recording their every private word.
Oh, it gets worse. That’s merely abhorrent and illegal. This, on the other hand, is downright evil:
But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. 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.
That has got the attention of everyone, it seems. The Guardian today rounds up searing quotes from prominent politicians, including prime minister David Cameron, the guy who brought Andy Coulson, deputy editor of the News of the World during all this (and later top editor when the hacking went exponential), into 10 Downing Street as his top flack, despite knowing he had presided over a serious hacking scandal. Here’s Cameron today:
On the … really appalling allegations about the telephone of Milly Dowler, if they are true this is a truly dreadful act in a truly dreadful situation. What I’ve read in the papers is quite, quite, shocking, that someone could do this actually knowing that the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened - and we all now know the tragedy that took place.
The Guardian and Nick Davies have dominated the News Corporation hacking scandal story, and that’s all the more important since most of the rest of the British press, plus its police, press boards, and politicians (in other words, most of its power structure), has tried to cover it up, as Archie Bland wrote for us in the magazine.
It’s awfully lonely out on a story that nobody else is touching, particularly when it’s explosive like this one and you’ve been almost alone on it for several years now. That’s compounded by the fact that for its efforts, the The Guardian has been fought and smeared by the most powerful media corporation in the world, which happens to be run by Rupert Murdoch, the man who, despite being a foreigner, appears to this casual observer across the pond to have the most enduring power of anyone in the UK.
That’s a long way of saying this hacking scandal doesn’t turn into what it has without the dogged efforts of Davies and The Guardian. Can we give them some sort of honorary overseas Pulitzer?