So here’s what we’ve learned so far about the grip that British newspapers have held over the government, up until now.
The press not only hides in the bushes, leaps out to take embarrassing pictures, eavesdrops on conversations, taps phones and steals answering machine messages from everyone—absent any privacy for anybody—they do these outrageous things to get a sleazy story without the slightest concern that anybody is going to stop them. They’ve pretty much terrorized all the government officials.
How could this be? Well, it’s ENGLAND! Those running the country present themselves as the very epitome of proper society—genteel, civilized, moral, forthright—and they will do anything, it seems, to keep from being embarrassed.
So the tabloid media eats them for lunch. The media does favors for the Prime Minister, pays off the police, and whatever else is needed to get the ruling class to hand over juicy details for their articles. Those that don’t cooperate get threats, issued in private, both veiled and unveiled. And then, if they still don’t come around, there comes the inevitable negative stories about the politician in the papers, together with awful pictures of them looking really ugly, together with commentary about their wayward behavior. [expand]
Here’s my favorite story of what happens to British politicians if they don’t cooperate.
About five years ago, a somewhat overweight middle-aged Member of Parliament, Clare Short, commented to somebody during a TV show that something ought to be done about all the porn and filth that appears in some of the country’s tabloid newspapers. She particularly objected to the tasteless photos of young topless women that appear on page 3 every day, a tradition in England for as long as anybody can remember.
Here’s what happened to Clare Short.
The next morning, she and the rest of England woke up to the following headline on the front page of The Sun, which Rupert Murdoch owns: “‘Fat, Jealous Clare Brands Page 3 Porn.”
Below it was a picture of Clare Short’s head pasted on the neck of a very attractive young topless woman.
The newspaper did not publish a whole photograph of Clare Short though. She is, or was until that time, quite well known throughout the country and so that was not necessary. Everybody knows what she looks like.
But the newspaper did not stop at that. Later in the day, a busload of beautiful young women came to Clare Short’s home in Birmingham to protest her comments about toplessness. They strutted around topless. Photographers from the newspaper took photos of them. A reporter interviewed several people on the street who said they “liked” seeing women topless in the newspaper. Another reporter interviewed one of the topless women who identified herself as Nicola McLean, age 22.
“Even Clare has boobs,” she said, “but obviously she’s not proud of them like we are of ours.”
Thus ended Clare Short’s short public career.
The English press’s attack on privacy knows no bounds. One writer reportedly confessed to erasing a teenage girl’s phone messages when they were “full” so the teenager could get more for him to read. And, most shockingly, and this is what started this scandal, there is the report that a newspaper obtained the telephone messages of a 13-year-old girl who was subsequently murdered to see what they could make of them.
But you know what? As a journalist in America, I have secretly wondered—don’t tell anybody—what it would feel like to laud it over everybody. I’ve been an upstanding journalist for all these years. I feel left out!
I might disagree with Southampton Mayor Mark Epley. I could headline: MAYOR EPLEY WEARS RED UNDERSHORTS if he ignored me and if one of my minions photographed him picking up a pair of them at Kmart in Bridgehampton. WHAT’S HE HIDING?
Then the next day, I could get a phone call from the Supervisor of East Hampton begging me to understand that the young woman another of my minions had photographed him squiring around with in downtown Montauk was actually his daughter.
“I could send you her birth certificate!” he will cry.
I could save the beaches, preserve the wildlife, rebuild historic sites, hold band concerts, raise money for the poor, have more sandcastle competitions, and on the Fourth of July have the biggest damn fireworks show at Main Beach ever.
It would be nice.
On second thought—and this is in real life—you know what I just did? I went online and downloaded the form I need to fill out from the Freedom of Information people down in Washington to get the contents of “the file” that the FBI has on me, if they have a file on me.
What if they DON’T have a file on me? Could that possibly be true? I’ve spent 51 years now editing this newspaper, shaking the trees as best I can, trying to help out here and there, taking stands where I think it’s important, telling jokes I’ve liked and otherwise making a fool of myself.
If the FBI says there IS no file on me, can I believe them? Who says you can believe the FBI? Well, I could always call Rupert Murdoch’s people. Isn’t it true Rupert was “spotted” sitting in a café in Sag Harbor the other day?
Did you hear that noise? [/expand]