The late, unlamented News of the World was a tabloid’s tabloid — meaning that it made the New York Post look formal and stuffy. When I lived in London 20 years ago, you could always count on News of the World to come up with the juciest, most lurid tidbits of information about the big story of the week. You could love the paper or hate it, but you couldn’t ignore it.
We now know how the News was getting much of that inside skinny. It was bad enough to learn that the paper had paid private investigators to hack into the mobile phones of celebrities, athletes and members of the royal family. Now it turns out that the News also orchestrated such illicit snooping into the lives of the relatives of slain British servicemen, the families of terrorist-bombing victims and even a kidnapped — and later slain — 13-year-old girl. Even by the swashbuckling standards of Fleet Street, this is obscene.
In a totally unexpected move, media mogul Rupert Murdoch sentenced what was said to be one of his favorite newspapers to the death penalty: It was announced Thursday that this Sunday’s edition of the 168-year-old paper will be the last. “Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued,” said James Murdoch, the press baron’s son and heir apparent.
The problem is that eventually the scandal will be fully understood — and punished. The revelations have caused such an uproar in Britain that Prime Minister David Cameron is under pressure to act, perhaps by delaying a huge satellite-television deal that Murdoch’s News Corp. wants to make. Criminal investigations are underway. Murdoch has so far declined to fire any of the executives who are implicated. It is likely that there will come a day when he is hard-pressed to keep them out of jail.
For years now, not a single newspaper has been headquartered on Fleet Street. The romance is long gone — and now the News of the World is going, too. After Sunday, only the stench will remain.