Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Gotcha! The News of the World bites the dust.

Yes, I know, I know. “Gotcha” was actually a Sun headline.  But it does seem enormously appropriate in this case. As you will be aware, James Murdoch, a close relative of The Lord of the Flies, has announced that, following …

Thu, Jul 7, 2011, 21:42


Yes, I know, I know. “Gotcha” was actually a Sun headline.  But it does seem enormously appropriate in this case. As you will be aware, James Murdoch, a close relative of The Lord of the Flies, has announced that, following revelations about phone tapping, The News of the World is to close. It’s not often you turn on Sky News and are forced to clean your glasses upon glancing the main headline. For once, it is fair to say that nobody saw this coming. Actually, it’s a double shocker. The notion that The News of the World could be axed and that Rebekah Brooks, editor when the offenses took place, could still retain her position in News International — subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation —  is quite astonishing. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Put it this way. If any government minister was revealed to have been in charge when comparable outrages were happening in his or her department, the august individual would have been immediately forced to resign. Right?

Look. Many of us have (let’s put it gently) always had reservations about the ethics and tone of The News of the World — its objectification of women in particular — but that paper has been an unavoidable part of the British cultural landscape for a century and a half. Many respectable individuals, otherwise seen with The Telegraph or The Guardian, bought the paper each Sunday “for the sport”. George Orwell’s great 1946 essay The Decline of the English Murder begins with this delicious paragraph:

“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?”

Murder, of course. Orwell’s essay touches on the hypocrisy that drives much tabloid journalism: disgust at contemporary enormities coupled with a relishing of the grisliest details. But he clearly has some admiration for the skill with which the hacks go about their business. However much you may loathe the paper’s taste for sleaze, you can’t deny that a mighty institution has just crumbled.

Even those who are happy to dance on the paper’s grave should have some reservations about the manner of its execution. Within seconds of the news emerging, commentators were speculating about the imminent arrival of a Sunday version of The Sun. It seems that News International — there being a Sunday Sun in Newcastle — had, earlier this week, registered the title The Sun on Sunday (if any journalist had spotted that nugget he or she would have landed scoop if the year). James Murdoch, speaking to Sky News tonight, didn’t exactly deny the notion. He offered some waffle about no such decisions being made at this point. (In an aside, the Sky reporting seemed pretty balanced to me. That associate of Murdoch’s News Corporation was happy enough to drag out any number of Rupert haters.)

Blah, blah, blah! You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to detect a frightening degree of cynicism here. If the ploy works, Murdoch will cleanse News Corporation of its recent taints and nudge aside objections to News Corporation buying out B Sky B in total. Meanwhile, a more economic Sunday paper can be edged slyly into the weekend market.

All very nice for those News of the World journalists who, some years after the offenses took place, have been flung out into the unforgiving, brutalist streets of Wapping.  By all means celebrate the fact that certain unlovely tabloid noises will not be heard in quite the same form again. But acknowledge that something squalid has just happened.

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