Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper hacking scandal has taken over both American and British media headlines. Could this type of embarrassment happen in the US? If you think not, you might be living under a rock.
Phony political scandals flashing dirty laundry. Racy, made-up celebrity gossip and crime stories almost beyond human imagination.All this gets served on a platter and sold for a couple of quarters by tabloids.
Veteran journalist Michael Musto knows the business inside out.
“In America we don’t break the law per se, but they do have sleazy tactics. They will slant a story. They probably make up sources. When you read an anonymous source – ‘an anonymous source said’ – well, who is it? Many times they can just make up the quote themselves. They say Joe Smith from Queens said bla bla bla. A lot of times I feel they are inventing these quotes to back up the thesis of the story,” said Musto to RT.
Fascination with scandal is almost religiously observed in the US — and Great Britain.
“We are both countries and media environments, where gossip sells and there is a tremendous interest in celebrity,” said editorial columnist Ted Rall.
Both countries are abuzz after Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper phone-hacking shocker broke in London.
His empire stretches far and wide across the US as well.
“Let’s not forget – he owns The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily,” said Musto, to name a few.
At a protest outside Rupert Murdoch’s Big Apple pad, protesters demanded an investigation into his publications at home.
“We don’t know if newspapers are hacking other people in this country yet, but I see no reason to put it past them,” said demonstrator Harry Wasbren.
So how far from potential public embarrassment do American newspapers stand?
“The ones that are owned by Rupert Murdoch – without question. The New York Post is one of the most hideous, deceitful tools of criminals that there could be,” said musician and journalist Will Gallison.
When it comes to getting scandal sold in the US, counting on the reader’s short attention span is a common publishing trick.
“Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have gotten together about 42 times so far this year, and I haven’t seen them photographed together since 2006. They are able to keep selling and re-packaging the same story that isn’t even a story,” said Lilit Marcus, editor of crushable.com.
No publication would admit to paying for information, but that’s also often a technicality.
“What a lot of news publications can get away with doing is they won’t explicitly give someone money in exchange for an interview, someone might set up a charitable organization and then the news will happen to donate twenty thousand dollars to that charitable organization,” explained Lilit Marcus.
The culture of sensationalism in the press is putting the future of journalism on the line.
“The Anglo-American style is trashy, it’s rye-balled, with this snickering tone that is very American. We are a juvenile society, we are a young society. I don’t really know what the Brits’ excuse is – they’ve been around a long time. Hey, we blame it on them, because we are their children,” said Rall.
While some will always remain fascinated by tabloids, as rags continue to sell, others have reached a breaking point.
“I don’t have that great of a sense of what happens in Britain, but I know it’s pretty bad here. There are a lot of people that are really upset about the culture of news in America and just how little information seems to get out in between all the gossip,” said organizer Duncan Meisel in New York.
“The press has to be vigilant, and in the United States the press has fallen asleep,” echoed Gallison.
Ithaca College journalism professor Jeff Cohen thinks that, with or without Murdoch, US culture is very tabloid.
“There is no doubt about it. We have the Jerry Springers and we have COPS which, by the way, is Murdoch. We had A Current Affair — that was Murdoch. We’ve always had a tabloid culture,” said Cohen.
The professor says that Murdoch succeeded in bringing his tabloid style across the pond, though the rest of the American media hasn’t quite followed suit to such a degree as in the UK.
“What I think Murdoch has done in the US is he accomplished what he already accomplished in England, which is the meshing of tabloid culture with political news,” said Cohen, who notes that Murdoch’s News Corporation produces products that can offer both political news and prime minister endorsements alongside celebrity gossip.
Cohen added that while this exists to a degree in America, the US has managed to separate the glitz and glam of juicy gossip from the real stories to a degree.
“Our tabloid culture tends to be not news. Murdoch, in England, has merged the two and that’s the big difference.”