(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)
The highlights of this story are largely well known: At a pub in Dover Hugh Grant secretly records former News of the World (NoW) reporter Paul McMullan detailing how NoW had regularly hacked into phones and raided the trash of celebrities to get the inside scoop. A feature is printed in the New Statesman. Further allegations come to the fore- including that the phone of former missing youth Milly Dowler, as well as the phones of deceased servicemen, have been hacked. Rupert Murdoch is shocked. The NoW is shut down as of Sunday July 10th.
It’s hard to know what to make of this story- complete with an absolutely unlikely list of characters. In keeping with all great news stories, this one has a couple of notable “good news/bad news” elements.
First, the good news is that the News of the World has been shut down. Seriously, with a list of headlines that include
My Big Fat Gypsy Divorce at just 19
FI Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With Hookers
Boozy bro Andy Carroll gave me black why eye
it can’t be considered much of a loss for the British media.
The bad news is that Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of NoW and current CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News International has managed to avoid loosing her job and avoid charges- despite reports that she knew about the hacking. Brooks seems to have enough friends in high places to allow her to walk out of this scandal untouched. There are stories of her and Prime Minister David Cameron going horse-back riding regularly and the best man at her wedding in 2003 was the director of the Press Complaints Commission. Is the end of NoW a case of destroying Frankenstein but not his creator?
Second, the good news is that Hugh Grant has been catapulted into the spotlight again after a few years of making largely forgettable films. Grant looked intelligent, professional, and- quite frankly- dashing.
The bad news is that it’s hard to know if Hugh Grant’s role in bringing The News of the World to its knees this week should be seen as a sign of Grant’s talent as an investigative journalist, or of the depressing state of the British media. Furthermore, Paul McMullan- whom Grant recorded- had himself been trying to blow the whistle on the newspaper for some time, largely to deaf ears. Does this mean that it takes the power of celebrity rather than an inside journalist to get the media and public’s attention?
At a final glance the only clear winner in this whole story is Hugh Grant. He’s redeemed himself for his own NoW scandal involving a prostitute in 1995 and eclipsed that story (and the image of his infamous mug shot) with a story of his own investigative journalism that led to the end of an era in British media history.