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: