Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fake Populism

I was listening to Slate Culture Gabfest and they endorsed an appearance by Steve Coogan on some BBC show talking about the News of the World scandal. The Guardian has a running news page about the scandal here. News of The World were hacking peoples cell phones illegally and the people they hacked ran the gamut from celebrities to soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan. The hack that has most offended the public was the hack of Milly Dowler, a 13 year old murder victim.

Anyway, while watching the Steve Coogan piece there was a link to a Hugh Grant piece. After watching those videos and a couple others I noticed that Murdock's people are using populist arguments to defend their actions. I think this is basically a smoke screen, but their argument basically goes "A bunch of rich people are telling poor people what to read". You can see this argument really clearly on this video of Hugh Grant in the commenter's explanation of the video.

It's kind of amazing to me that they would even try this b/c this isn't a class issue at all. Rupert Murdock is a whole lot richer than Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan put together an multiplied by 10. This article says Murdock is worth 5.6 billion. That maybe overstated b/c some articles are saying that he's lost a billion dollars since the scandal broke. This isn't some laborer demanding to read hacked voicemails from a murdered school girl versus Hugh Grant's annoyance at being caught with a hooker. It's an issue of whether or not Murdock should be allowed to profit by breaking the law and invading people's privacy.

In contrast to that, although they did hack celebrities and politicians, Murdock's people were hacking people like Milly Dowler, victims of the 7/7 bombings, and soldiers who died at war. Clearly these people aren't wealthy celebrities or people who have chosen to throw themselves in the spotlight.

The argument is a complete red herring. Most of the readers don't want these people's phones hacked, that's why advertisers left the NOTW in droves. They didn't want to piss off their customers who are not going to reward anyone associated with a scumbag outfit like NOTW. So, the argument is really about whether or not the freedom of the press incorporates the right of the press to hack into phones. The majority consensus is that the press does not have that right, and that's why there are laws against it. It's further evidenced by the disgust shown by the public.

The question of an individual's privacy is a completely different question than whether rich people want to tell poor people what to read. I also think it's funny that they used this attack on Steve Coogan. I don't think there are any interesting tabloid stories about him (the best a quick google search came up with is that Courtney Love accused him of some stuff), so he really doesn't have a dog in this fight.

Now, the reason I think this is interesting is that Murdock's shown a willingness to break the law, a desire to distort the debate, give specious arguments, and a disregard for the truth. At one point Fox News insinuated that Fox itself had been hacked. The reason the press is granted freedom is to prevent every single one of those things from happening. It should clarify debates by providing facts and information, it should regard the truth, or the attempt to find the truth, as its highest ideal. If it works contrary to that then there is no reason to have freedom of the press. So if Murdock's businesses do not share the goals of the press, is it still press?


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