A free market of idiots

I’m enough of an ex-journalist that I’ve read with interest about Britain’s scandal-plagued scandal sheet News of the World. Short version: to feed its tabloid readership, the paper hacked into the e-mails, phones and private records of politicians and celebrities, to great financial success. So far so good, but then they broke into the voice mail of a murdered teenage girl, even deleting some of her messages so that her parents believed (falsely) that she was alive. That was the line, and they crossed it.

This has been roundly condemned, as it should be, and it’s brought a lot of attention to the nature of British media, also as it should be. Those on the left are trying mightily to attach the scandal to Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp and owner of News of the World (and of course Fox News here in the US). He’s, of course, denying any knowledge of these actions.

But I don’t think Murdoch is utlimately to blame. I think the blame lies here:

Let me be clear: it’s not the magazines. It’s the person buying them.

Murdoch and his kind do nothing more than obey the first rule of business: give the people what they want. From gossip to innuendo to outright lies, his various media outlets have one thing in common: success. If nobody cared about celebrities, he wouldn’t be in the gossip business. If people turned off news that was repeatedly shown to be biased, and with occasional outright fabrications, his news shows would either straighten up or go dark. And if there wasn’t a ravenous appetite for sordid details, the phone of a dead girl would not have been hacked.

Every person who buys a magazine with a Kardashian on the cover, or watches the Octomom on TV, or reads Perez Hilton online is as responsible, if not more so, than Rupert Murdoch for the state of media and so-called “news.” These consumers have created the environment that promises economic rewards for hacking the phone of a dead girl. The defense is that these magazines are “harmless,” that celebrity gossip is “just for fun,” but now we’ve learned that “fun” might extend to the private e-mails, voice mails and medical records of 9/11 families (the FBI is investigating that). Is that “harmless?” Because once you’ve exhausted celebrity culture (and please, God, I hope we’re close), the only things left are private citizens with the bad luck to suffer public tragedy. And that could be any of us. Our worst nightmare could be marketed as “just for fun.”

So, let me be plain: supporting this crap with your money and time makes you the problem, not the people who produce it. Stop buying it, and they’ll go away. That’s how an intelligent free market works. But a free market of idiots leads to this:

2 Comments on “A free market of idiots”

  1. I agree with what you say partly but a greater understanding of how deep the issue goes into British culture comes with acknowledging the loyalty its people have to a certain specific tabloid or broadsheet newspaper, and have had that loyalty for years.

    This isn't about the impulse buying of a magazine through the check-out at a grocery store or on a newsstand, as you suggest here. It's about a household loyalty to a newspaper that has been delivered to its home very much like it is here in the US, every day.

    People don't tend to change their newspaper brand because of a sudden or even subtle change in content. For the most part it would go unnoticed until stories like this one.

    I'm not disagreeing with what you say here at all, I'm just more aware of how much deeper the cancer of cheap supposed journalism goes into my culture.

    I can't ever remember a time when The Daily Mirror wasn't read in our house. The Mirror is one of what the UK calls 'red-tops', ie. the name of the paper is in red on the top left on the front cover. News of the World is one such red-top, as is The Daily Star and The Sun.

    My dad sat in his chair reading The Daily Mirror for hours in the sixties – apparently he was partly dyslexic my mum says, and so a slow reader. It's mostly my only memory of him and it was a significant part of his daily life. We kids wouldn't be allowed to interrupt him when he was reading the paper.

    These days my mum gets it delivered pretty much for the crosswords and word puzzles, but she also glances through it too, and I'm sure it's influenced the way she thinks and also talks to people when she's on the bus into town.

    This stuff is so insidiously rooted into the entire working class culture back where I live, that changes in its standards are ergo changes in the society it also supposedly represents.

    And let's not even go near the proud displaying of topless models on page three of The Sun. I mean, how archaic is that?

  2. I'm reminded of a YouTube video, oddly enough, where after mocking the BP oil spill, a message scrolled by. Something like, "You hate big oil, but not enough to stop driving."

    As long as we make evil profitable, bad people will do bad things.

    At least one could argue that driving is essential to modern life. Purchasing trashy, gossip rags is not.

    (And the YouTube video I'm refering to is The BP Oil Spill Re-Enacted By Cats in 1 Minute‏)

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