WT Stead was the Godfather of British Tabloid Journalism. Jailed when Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette by a corrupt Victorian court for exposing the scandal of child-prostitution in London, he went on to dominate his newly invented profession until going down with the Titanic in 1912. After his death, he retired to Cornwall, where his disembodied spirit haunts our office, and leaves occasional, vitriolic and completely uncensored opinion pieces lying around. Here’s the latest.
THE END OF THE WORLD
A skit, by Mr William Thomas Stead (with apologies to Mr Christopher Nolan)
Centre Stage: International Illusionist, the great Murdoch
After a long abscence, Murdoch takes again to the public stage, and, sporting a natty fedora, and accompanied by a dizzy flame-haired assistant, stands before the angry crowd.
He is reading a tabloid newspaper, which he casually lets drop to his side.
“Ladies and gentleman, for my next trick, I will undertake a feat thought hitherto impossible by anyone in your country or beyond.
“I will fold this newspaper.”
Crowd gasps in horror.
Murdoch breaks into a trademark broad and homely grin. With a wave of his livered hand, he makes a show of damping the general uproar.
“Yes, it’s mine, and I can do whatever I God damned like with it.”
The great illusionist’s ginger assistant smiles rapturously and licks her master’s leathery face as he prepares to vanish the bright red publication into thin air.
Cries from the crowd: ‘No!’
Old woman: ‘But I like reading about pompous showbiz luvvies caught humping dwarves – stop it, no..’
Strident Professor in corduoroy: ‘Wait – we take it all back – we just forgot the News of the World dates back to the 1800s and was name-checked as an integral part of British culture by George Orwell, plus, no-one wanted to sell it to you anyway you only got it because of Thatcher and we just – sort of, forgot, about all that, because we’re so very academic – anyway, stop, No..”
Gaggle of powerfully vain and selfish stars of stage and screen: “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Do it Rupe! We’ve seen the future and it’s fluffy celebrity news. Come over to our side love! Coo-eee!”
Murdoch: “There it is – this limp rag, which once symbolised ebullient and rebellious British working class culture as much as the Times did upper class conformity, until I raped them both, and now before your very eyes I will tear it to shreds in a spectacle never to be seen before – or – ahem – again.”
Wild screams erupt as Murdoch screws up and rips the 68 page colour edition, and tiny reporters fall bloodied and screaming into new jobs with fantastic excuses as to why they left their last one.
Pause. Zoom saliva dripping from Rebekah Brook’s mouth up to wild glint in glazed eyes. Pan Murdoch, teeth and smile.
The crowd sits aghast and silent but for the sound of stifled, motherly weeping and tiny squeals of short-lived employment agony from the papers 200 miniature staff.
But now – a voice booms out from the rear of the auditorium.
‘Rupe’s reach – exceeds his grasp: Rupe’s grasp – exceeds his nerve!”
Hundreds of distressed heads turn to behold an enormous, mollifying satellite television news channel and international film network.
The network showers money over the panting celebrities and hypnotises the assembled crowd with a series of no-win no-fee personal injury lawyer adverts broadcast in strobe-light.
Drunk with joy, George Micheal exposes himself to a six year old in a public lavatory and Steve Coogan cheats on his wife with 63 prostitutes in a bath of custom-made post-ironic cocaine distributed directly to his big house in the diamond-studded coffins of Columbian children murdered in pointless drug wars fuelled by Steve Coogan and his mad, crap friends.
Sun on Sunday reporters witness both events but their stories are spiked in favour of: “All men are probably paedophiles” strap-line “And definitely wife-beaters” byline: Rebekah Brooks, (foreign correspondent – one previous caution: husband-beating)
Yes, well, you get the idea.
Nobody seems to be able to take their eyes and ears of the terrible, awful, simply terrible awful behaviour of a bunch of tabloid journalists in London, this week, so I thought – if you can’t beat ‘em – join ‘em.
Not the terrible, awful, evil, horrible, nasty reporters of course: No.
No, we’re all agreed now that caving under ‘do it or sign on’ pressure from wicked witch of Wapping Rebekah ‘Innocent’ Brooks to ask, at her specific request, a £150,000 per annum PI, officially contracted to News International by the most senior executives in the building who damn well want their moneys worth, to magically and illegally get the inside track on every big story of the week, or – let’s say it again – be sacked – is a crime punishable by death by Um Bongo, or whatever lynch-mob punishments are being suggested for journalists, paedophiles, or any other group that – (Ironically, do you think? Not sure? Answers on a postcard) – are the current subject of a media vitriol frenzy.
No, not them. They’re scum. I want to join the winning side of sanctimonious, hypocritical, amateur, idiot, Georgie-girl “reporters” at the BBC desperate to make as much capital and viewing rating as possible out of the demise of a long distrusted, envied and genuinely popular rival which kicked the crap out of them every week by being good, and their creepy, dickhead friends from La-La land who object to being shafted by a faux-prurient public after fighting their way up on to the public stage and screaming ‘Take me!’.
After all – it seems there’s no choice. It’s all decided. Posh and Becks and Coleen and Wayne and Steve and Hugh and every other actor, singer, footballer – you know, those intellectual, morally driven people from whom we should all take our example – they’re the people who are going to decide what newspapers we read – not the great uncouth, unwashed – no siree.
From this historic day on we shall all watch the BBC, learn from our elders and betters, read the Guardian, shop at Asda, support corporate charities, and be tucked up in bed at ten.
And I tell you what – on Sunday – rather than read about blood, guts and strumpets in the News of the World like George Orwell’s nuclear family of the 1940s may have done – why don’t we top off this moral crusade by all trotting along to church.
After all, now they’ve sold their Murdoch holdings, we can go up Our Lady Rebekah of the Foreign Climes’ aisle with a clear conscience and a pointed expression, to share a communal sing-a-long to Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, trooping out in an orderly fashion – men to bedsits, women and children to council homes, two nice orderly queues under the banner reading ‘Brave New World This Way’ please, – then spend the afternoon sat stock dead in front of BSkyB footage of bloody football games re-sold to the BBC for the bit after the official news that isn’t censored. Rigged, possibly, but we’ll be unlikely to find that out now – unless those dress-down, drawing room tossers at the Guardian have spent decades building a network of underworld contacts so they can risk life and limb to let us all know.
Or – on second thoughts – maybe I don’t want to live in that particular Fabian Hell.
Maybe there’s something very, very wrong about the end of the News of the World and it’s about time somebody had the balls to say so.
So here goes.
When I chose to invent tabloid journalism, I chose to do so not because I wanted to be rich, not because I yearned to see my name in lights, and not because I gained some sadistic thrill out of seeing famous people embarrassed for doing perfectly harmless fun things we have all either done ourselves – or would do given the chance.
I chose it, because I loathe and detest orthodoxy, and establishments, and enforced consensus gentium, and everybody agreeing that everyone is right.
And I don’t just loathe and detest this – I think it’s dangerous.
This is a perfectly good creed to live by, and one which has motivated far greater minds than mine: Burke, for a start, and you could list the rest all day.
This is why I would now like to see David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch, his horrible son James, and their favourite little dog Checkers, all stuffed up Rebekah Brook’s rear and sewed in until they choked on their combined BS and she exploded.
Because these Godawful people have shafted a vital part of my free press.
Not harmless Daily Star Royal Editor Clive Goodman. Not charming NOTW byline bandit James Weatherup. Not even evil Ian Edmonson.
I don’t care all that much that hundreds of reporters on tabloid papers over the last few decades listened to other people’s phone messages to get stories.
I DO care that Britain’s pretty much oldest surviving scandal-sheet was turned into an instrument of establishment evil and finally horribly murdered by mincing Sorbonne-educated secretary-harridan Rebekah Wade/Brooks/Hucknall, whatever.
That no-one in Murdoch-world stepped in to stop her running a truly revolting, cynical, lying and socially destructive campaign inciting the populous to lynch suspected ‘paedophiles’ is unsurprising.
Sadly, from what I’ve seen after sinking beneath the frozen Antartic wave, ever since William Hearst declared War on Spain, no big-hitting senior yellow journalist or Editor has cared too much if they got innocent blood on their hands – and Brooks did, in Portsmouth, where there was at least one suicide.
But for no-one in the News Int boardroom ranks of former reporters to raise an eyebrow when, at Tony Blair and Special Branch’s specific request – she ran a COMPLETELY made-up story that Fathers for Justice were aiming to kidnap his son Leo, a story specifically aimed at gunning down a civil rights movement that was starting to scare the living daylights out of a corrupt establishment, was perhaps slightly surprising.
That Murdoch himself didn’t sack the talentless, violent harpie when she was later exposed for beating up her husband at the height of a – wait for it – anti-domestic violence campaign she deemed fit to run, was a nasty shock.
But for him to keep her on, after she’s been blown wide open for bugging Millie Dowler’s phone, and have her swooning all around you in public wibbling, like JR Ewing following you round a party with a double-scotch showing off his bullet wound, is surely the madness of his dotage.
People on internet forums keep asking – ‘What must Rebekah Brooks have on Murdoch and son?’
I’ll tell you: nothing. Because Mick Hucknall – I mean Rebekah – No, I can’t even bear to write the witch’s name, let’s just write what we see – Mick Hucknall couldn’t dig up dirt on a mole if you asked her in your nicest pretty please pretty lady voice.
Hucknall isn’t even a journalist. The most cursory Wiki shows everyone she started life as a corporate secretary, and we can only pray she ends life accordingly as a withered old Oxfordshire cat lady who leaves her massive, selfish, empty house to the PDSA.
She knows nothing about, cares nothing for, and is nothing but a massive ginger embarrassment to, tabloid journalism.
Murdoch likes her because she’s like him: she sees a newspaper purely in terms of income.
And like him, she doesn’t understand that if you treat a paper like that, long term, you kill it.
Also like him, she doesn’t give a monkeys.
Until Miss Hucknall got her sweaty-palms on it, the NOTW was pretty much the private citizens last refuge against tyranny and conformity.
Why even my predecessor at the Pall Mall Gazette, the upstanding Mr Greenwood, would not, out of snobbery, bear for even his cook to look at it!
And by the latter part of the 20th Century, long after the Gazette had gone, people still knew the NOTW would work for them, whoever they were, as long as they had a story.
You wouldn’t ring the Guardian if aliens landed on your lawn. You’d be unlikely to ring the Times is the Chief Constable raped your sister. And while there were other newspapers willing to have a pop at the establishment – something told you the NOTW was always the place to turn.
Why? Well for the precise reasons the establishment has now killed the newspaper off.
The reporters of the News of the World have been, since it’s post-War heyday, mad, bad, and dangerous to know, stopping at nothing to nail a tale.
Remember how this whole phone hacking thing started? Royal Editor Clive Goodman got into Prince William’s mobile messages.
Now that’s naughty. Is it wrong? Unless you’re a Republican, yes.
But, right or wrong – and most of us assumed the operation of the News of the World was technically wrong and didn’t care – no-one but the NOTW would have the guts to do it.
That’s why, to their readers, the paper retained the place in your heart reserved for that ‘terrible’ misbehaving relative you invite round for Christmas.
Mad cousin Terry, you know full well, will openly call your mother-in-law an old trout when you’re sick of her and haven’t got the guts.
And like an eternal relative-off-the-rails, the News of the World just never cared who they turned over, how they did it, or what people said about them afterwards.
Also like your favourite wayward cousin, you knew if you asked them to do something, and they agreed, they’d do it – in spades.
The Sun, the Mirror – well, they’re kind of the same. But not really. You can phone them up: they might show an interest in your case.
But if the Sun and the Mirror were a couple of efficient defence lawyers who could get you off a bogus charge then move on, the News of the World was in a different league.
The NOTW was the shyster who would wander into court three hours late, refuse to apologise to the judge, and prove in five minutes that you were innocent, that the policeman who framed you was having it off with your wife, and that the court usher had filmed their sordid liasons and syndicated the footage on the internet to pay the judge’s daughter’s bail on an animal cruelty rap.
You don’t get results like that without going to extremes without a care for yourself or the law, and people in power were – quite rightly – terrified of the News of the World, while people without power – quite naturally – liked that fact quite a lot.
BBC pop-brains citing Chomsky be damned: it’s just not that complicated.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, people said. And you can’t break a News of the World story without bending a few rules. And everyone knew this.
Hucknall knew it too, up close. She was never interested in it, but she knew.
Just like “the office cat” – as one former reporter put it – knew – and just like all the top brass, apparently now all the way up to the Prime Minister did.
But it’s precisely because she’s thick, and insensitive, and uninterested, that she would have broken the paper’s back with a demand to hack a missing girl’s phone.
That’s not just naughty: it’s not just downright nasty. It’s also thick. It’s the assent of a Manager whose spinal cord is not touching her brain.
It’s got ‘Toxic’ – to re-coin the current phrase – plastered all over it in luminescent yellow. And you’d have to be both a charlatan, and an idiot, to agree to it, still more to request it.
Reporters don’t think like that. Few are that unpleasant, and even less are that stupid.
Paul McMullan, the alcoholic ex-features Editor who kept the grease on the wheels of this self-destructive scandal with his repeated public confessions of phone-bugging, has now repeatedly shown on TV the chasm between what a tabloid reporter is supposed to be like, and what they’re really like.
You Tube is currently offering a 177,000 hit grab of Steve Coogan ripping into this former showbiz editor on Newsnight.
Of course everyone’s voting for funny, popular Steve. But I think it’s McMullan who comes off better, if you do what the NOTW always boasted it did, and look at the truth behind this gladitorial, staged studio interview.
Firstly, Coogan tackles McMullan as a ‘PR Man’ for the NOTW. He is in fact the organisation’s primary whistleblower – so the very opposite – and one who, unlike the hacks married to BBC girls who’ve been knocking out nicely written but essentially token ‘insights’ into their paper in the last few days, has the guts to be named on screen in what everyone keeps saying is tabloid journalism’s ‘darkest hour’.
Secondly, Coogan, whose rampant ego and luxury-corrupted soul are almost as out of proportion with those of an ordinary human being as his intelligence and talent, not only talks made-up, out-dated crap about the paper’s supposedly reactionary politics, but speaks – loudly and in a playground bullying hector – as if the only thing it ever did was gratuituosly expose Steve Coogan’s pathetic personal life.
McMullan on the other hand – when he’s given a chance – is honest to a fault, even when he knows no-one sympathises. You can also tell by his face he knows he’s being set up.
You can see it all here:
Now bear in mind watching this that Steve Coogan is stoking himself to crucify a man in confessional who’s already pretty much done it to himself. Listen HERE to McMullan choosing to tell the world – a world who never asked him and certainly isn’t showing him any sympathy for his honesty – how terrible he feels today about the suicide of Denholm Elliot’s daughter Jennifer, something I don’t think, frankly, he can blame himself too much for, given the state of her mind due to self-inflicted drug addiction.
But that’s how most reporters are. Eighty per-cent drop out after local papers to do jobs their friends and family recognise as public-spirited, because they want to do good, and they’re just sick to death at being misunderstood.
Ok – so the reporters that went on to the News of the World may have not been quite so soppy. But corporate phone-bugging is just that: it needs an executive order.
Reporters can’t authorise £150,000 a year to a PI. And perhaps, like their readers, they didn’t care to know exactly how that PI got the results the Editors who did authorise that £150k – Editors like Hucknall – demanded.
Perhaps they were scared they’d lose their jobs if they didn’t use him: perhaps they were right.
If so – whose fault is that?
There’s a whole ‘only obeying orders’ argument there that I’m not going to get into and which we all know and love anyway.
But make no bones about it – the orders were Hucknalls.
They say social media is eclipsing the press: I’m not so sure. Everyone needs an Editor, and there’s only so much ‘Yaye – got a noo car!’ a man can stand.
But if there is one trend I’d like to see take off in cyberspace it’s #sackbrooks
Maybe the great Murdoch should wake up, log on, check his Twitter account finally kick his Chief Executive’s freckly behind out.
We all know what he wants: his trick needs a Prestige – he wants BSkyB. And by all accounts, on paper, he can barely be denied it.
Unless, of course, News Int aren’t ‘fit and proper’ people to control such powerful media.
And what’s fit and proper about beating up your husband, using the free press as a Government propaganda tool – and bugging Millie Dowler’s phone?