(h/t commentor R-Jud)
In the August 1 issue of the New Yorker, Anthony Lane has a most informative article on “a tabloid culture run amok“:
… Whatever the case, the last laugh has been his. Murdoch knows something that his assailants will seldom concede, and that renders their call for radical change, in the rapport between governance and the media, both tardy and redundant. The change has already happened; culture, media, and sport are not in Murdoch’s pocket, but the British, not least in their yen to watch soccer and cricket on Sky, have reached into their pockets and paid for his feast of wares. The country is in uproar just now, but outrage en masse functions like outrage in private: we reserve our deepest wrath not for the threat from without, which we fail to comprehend, but for forces with which we have been complicit. The British press has long revelled in the raucous and the irresponsible; that was part of its verve, and it was Murdoch’s genius, and also the cause of his current woes, to recognize those tendencies, bring the revelry to a head, and give the people what they asked for. He reminded them of themselves.
Look at an average copy of the News of the World, from March 27th, well before the latest outcry. There are only scraps of news here, and almost nothing of the world. No woman in the first six pages wears anything warmer than lingerie. An entrant from a televised ice-dancing contest is granted a double-page spread to muse upon his newly transplanted hair. And the column on the op-ed page is by Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator—a respectable weekly journal, loosely tied to the Tories, with a strong showing in arts and books coverage. Over the course of four decades, under Murdoch’s approving gaze, the lowbrow has paid no more attention to the highbrow than it ever did, while the highbrow has paid both heed and obeisance to the low—submission, in the weird wrangling of British class consciousness, being preferable to condescension. The most telling piece in the Guardian, in the wake of the hacking scandal, came from a former editor of the paper, Peter Preston, who analyzed the sales figures and showed that more ABC1 readers (that is, those with better education, employment, and pay, and thus close to advertisers’ hearts) read the News of the World than the Sunday Times—more, indeed, than the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Independent on Sunday put together. Murdoch must have closed the Screws with a pang…
(If you don’t click the link, you will also miss an excellent Sorel cartoon.)
Roy Greenslade: As bad as things appear to be, Rupert Murdoch could be seen to be a tremendously beneficial owner of media in Britain. He’s poured money into the Times and the Sunday Times, and kept them afloat when few other people would have done so. He launched satellite TV, increasing the range of channels available to everyone. This must surely be something to appreciate about the man.
Michael Wolff: If you like the direction, reach and power of “big media”, you can hardly find someone who has been more beneficial than Rupert Murdoch. The downside, however, is to use it to further his own interests, create a power base, an independent state of his own. Murdoch loves newspapers. But one of the reasons he has loved newspapers is they can be very powerful and they give him a power he can use.
RG: Isn’t it always the case that small media, if it’s successful, is going to become big media? We would say in terms of business, if we believed in capitalism, that branching out is a natural consequence. So Murdoch, as a newspaper owner, gains power, and we know there’s this amazing reciprocal relationship that goes on. He uses his political power to further his business interests, and he uses his business interests to further his political power. The point is, is there any proof that his use of political power has had any effect on the democracies of Australia, Britain, the United States? Especially the US, where it seems he has very little political clout.
MW: Let’s take the present presidential election cycle, in which you have a list of candidates in the Republican party. [You look] at these people and think, “how did they get here? These are the strangest group of national candidates ever assembled, how did this happen?” The answer, most obviously, is because of Fox News. It has two million viewers who want to be entertained by politics, who need exaggerated figures to entertain them. You can only be a viable Republican if you speak to the Fox audience. They demand exaggerated figures, therefore we have conservatives who are unelectable in America…
It’s an epic tragedy! It’s a pie-throwing, crowd-pleasing farce! And it’s got real potential to run long enough for syndication. Just yesterday, the NYTimes reported that “a reassuring, one-paragraph letter from a prominent London law firm named Harbottle & Lewis” clearing Murdoch’s News of the World has “come under scrutiny“; it may be that a truly caring legal representative would have felt it wise to point out that bribing the police force was, however business-savvy, probably illegal.
Also, Gawker reports that the New York Post has “instructed its reporters not to destroy any documents ‘pertaining to unauthorized retrieval of phone or personal data, to payments for information to government officials.'”
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions…