Will anyone miss the News of the Screws when inevitably something equally awful is bound to fill the vacuum it creates? And are the Murdochs and their henchmen any better than pornographers?
Strangely, I wasn’t asked to the News International summer party two weeks ago, nor have I ever met Rupert Murdoch. Once I saw him in the Pimlico Road slipping into one of the pricier antique shops there and I remember being struck by how small and grey he looked, yet readily identifiable, like a faint caricature of himself. ‘Hardly a larger-than-life figure,’ I thought, ‘but there goes the most powerful man in publishing.’ Now this status seems rather less certain.
A judiciously balanced mixture of lurid detail and sententious drivel has kept the tabloid presses turning profitably for years: in the minds of their readers, their enjoyment of the former was somehow justified by the presence of the latter.
So it was small wonder that The News of the World was often referred to as The News of the Screws: a little irony that must have given its proprietors and their editors considerable amusement, especially as they were no more interested in providing an intelligent analysis of what went on in the world than their close cousins, the porn barons.
Both tapped into an insatiable desire for vicarious pleasure. But at least the Pornmeisters only exploit the needs of our ever-demanding libidos (unless you count Richard Desmond, of course).
Tabloid editors know how to press the buttons that control our innate greed, jealousy and fear. The most naked examples of this manipulation can still be found in the headlines of the Mail and, less subtly and more comically perhaps, the Express. But the NotW editors went one step further, they specialised in the vicarious pleasure so many seem to gain from celebrity life and recognised that this could be amplified exponentially by revelations about the sexual transgressions of the famous. To beat the competition they resorted to criminal means to obtain their unfailingly sensational stories. Add to this the mawkish coverage of tragedy and victimhood and you had an unbeatable recipe for success.
I don’t often go out of my way to defend pornography, but it seems clear to me that those who produce even the most banal and reductive variety easily hold the moral high ground when compared with the likes of Rupert, James and Rebekah. I’ll shed no tears for The News of the World’s extinction. I never liked it and it always struck me as being guilty of promoting the worst sort of British sexual hypocrisy, which was both prurient and regressive. However, thanks to News International’s downward buck-passing, two hundred more journalists will swell the unemployed ranks of what is already an oversubscribed profession. I certainly feel very sorry for them.
Photo copyright and courtesy of The World Economic Forum