The News is now the story. Today’s Reuters has a special report on the cynical, money-grubbing burn-out work culture at News of the World. Rebekah Brooks created a macho organization where reporters competed for the sleaziest sources…
“We used to talk to career criminals all the time. They were our sources,” says another former reporter from the paper who also worked for Murdoch’s daily tabloid, the Sun. “It was a macho thing: ‘My contact is scummier than your contact.’ It was a case of: ‘Mine’s a murderer!’ On the plus side, we always had a resident pet nutter around in case anything went wrong.”
And does this sound like extortion?
“It was a ridiculously cynical approach to news,” says Peter Burden, author of the 2008 book “News of the World? Fake Sheikhs & Royal Trappings.” “They just thought: here are these endless people that Joe Public are interested in because of ‘Big Brother’, and they thought they could do what the hell they liked with them and they raided them rotten, them and their families.”
Editors would then often use damaging stories as bargaining chips, trading them for future access to public figures or to build relationships with stars. Often, the paper would drop the story they had altogether and publish something more sympathetic.
“It would be things like: ‘We know you were sleeping with your secretary but we’ll keep it out of the paper if you give us the story about how you were given away as a child,” said the long-term freelancer.
“They used to call stories ‘levers’,” said the general news reporter.
If the News approach was applied to politicians, and if this culture extended to the US holdings that include Fox News, things are going to get really interesting on this side. Already Les Hinton, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, has had to resign. What next?
WHAT’S NEXT: A look at Murdoch’s political money trail. With the Citizens United decision clearing the way for more corporate money in politics, this deserves investigation.