News of the World for all the wrong reasons

Jody Michael

To me, some of the most interesting stories in the news media are the stories that actually involve the media. An intriguing example is happening across the pond with former United Kingdom newspaper News of the World.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s a short recap: Since at least 2002, News of the World reporters have hired investigators to hack into as many as 7,000 people’s voicemail accounts. Their way of breaking news was to illegally obtain messages belonging to Prince William’s aides, a handful of British celebrities and even the families of dead British soldiers and 9/11 victims.

Police became aware of these hackings years ago, but the story re-emerged on July 4 when The Guardian reported News of the World hacked murdered English schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail account after she went missing, giving her family false hope that she was still alive.

News of the World’s owner, News Corporation, is the world’s second-largest media company, owning newspapers, book publishers, magazines, movie and television production companies, TV channels, websites and more. That means its newspapers, news websites and news channels have the unfortunate duty of reporting the bad things their News of the World buddies have done.

Unsurprisingly, they are instead trying to downplay the phone hacking scandal’s severity so News Corp. doesn’t look bad.

Fox News, another News Corp. company, aired barely half the number of phone-hacking segments (102) that CNN did (199) in the sixteen days following the new Milly Dowler development.

“You look at some sites, you would think that Martians had landed in New Jersey again,” Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy said. “We’ve got some serious problems in this country right now.”

Even worse, though, is the deflection from Peter Brookes, cartoonist for British newspaper The Times, another News Corp. company. He noticed the phone-hacking scandal is getting more media attention than the recent drought in Somalia that caused the United Nations to declare a famine for the first time in almost 30 years.

Unfortunately, Brookes is correct. Even more unfortunately, the way Brookes illustrated the media’s priorities is not helping.

His Thursday cartoon depicted three extremely thin Somalian children with empty bowls but bloated bellies, one of the children saying “I’ve had a bellyful of phone-hacking…”

This is a misguided statement that incorrectly assumes two things. First, it assumes this is extremely rare for the media to over-blow a story like the phone-hacking scandal. Has Brookes never heard of Carmageddon, the royal wedding or the “Ground Zero mosque”? Plus, the hacking story is very deserving of the attention it’s getting. Hacking isn’t as bad as a famine, sure, but phone hacking is still very serious.

Second, it assumes the media would actually be discussing the Somalian famine right now if this hacking scandal had never happened. Sadly, no, they wouldn’t be; the media’s eyes last week were on the debt ceiling and the Midwest heat wave; good luck diverting their attention.

And just for clarification, is The Times even covering the Somalian famine? Do a news search for stories about the famine from British newspapers; you’ll find plenty if you look at The Telegraph or The Guardian, but nearly nothing if you look at The Times.

So, News Corp.’s damage control of this phone-hacking story is hilarious in a way that makes me ask myself, should I be laughing at this?

Jody Michael is a junior news major.

Contact him at [email protected].