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The New York Times and Murdoch

Day by day, another shoe drops in the story from Britain concerning the phone-hacking scandal and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The latest news is that the head of Scotland Yard has resigned, and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks has been arrested for questioning.

It’s newsworthy, but the hyped-up outrage is all out of proportion. The idea that tabloid papers in Britain use shady methods to obtain dirt hardly qualifies as a revelation. Nor is the fact that the papers work closely with the police. Phone-hacking and bribes are crimes, and should be treated as such, but the frenzy in the UK we read about seems over the top.

 That said, given that this story involves the royal family, the Prime Minister, both parties, and the police, I can understand why the phone-hacking scandal is big news in Britain. But it is far from obvious why The New York Times has made this story its lead item every day for weeks now, and devoted multiple pages of coverage on a daily basis. I can’t recall a UK event that the Times has highlighted so much. With its breathless retelling of all the details, and its own “discoveries”, at times it feels like I’m reading The Guardian.

I know from reading spiked that there is a disconnect in Britain between the media obsession with the phone-hacking story and the masses: most British people are more concerned about the economy and other, more relevant issues. Well, if that is the case in Britain, it is doubly-so in the US. Most Americans can’t be bothered to try to work out who is the red-haired woman who almost a decade ago edited a newspaper they’ve never seen or heard of.

It’s pretty clear what is going on: the Times has gone over-board with the phone-hacking story for reasons of petty competitiveness. With added investment from News Corporation into politics, foreign affairs and culture, the Wall Street Journal has become a formidable rival to the Times. Moreover, the Murdoch-owned Fox News is the devil-incarnate for US liberals, seen as a fountain of lies and the main reason why Americans don’t vote for the Democrats (of course, how Fox News lost its dark powers during the 2008 election has not been explained – maybe, like Lord Voldemort, they were temporarily weakened).

This would be just be an unserious schadenfreude fest if not for the fact that – encouraged by the Times – the US authorities are now getting involved. The FBI and federal attorney general Eric Holder have both announced inquiries. There is talk of utilizing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has heretofore been used mainly for nabbing Americans who bribe foreign government representatives.

There is a good chance that if these types of investigations take off in the US, the path will be paved for more state regulation of the media. This could ultimately come full circle and hurt the Times. Lest we forget, this is the newspaper that has given the seal of establishment approval to the dodgy methods of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, among other dubious practices.

Why should we join the Times’ petty and short-sighted attacks on Murdoch? No good will come of them.

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