Watching the Murdock saga unfold is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know something awful has happened. And you suspect it will get worse before it gets better.
In case you’ve been on another planet the last few days, here is a short summary. Media tycoon Rupert Murdock has closed down the “News of the World,” Britain’s most popular weekly tabloid, following allegations that reporters hacked the phone records not just of celebrities and royals, but of families of British soldiers killed overseas, among others.
There are even charges that, nine years ago, a private investigator working on behalf of the newspaper hacked into the cell phone of a missing teen and deleted voice mail messages, interfering with a police investigation.
And now there are allegations that Murdoch papers bribed police for information.
Who knows what else may come to light? Frankly, it’s hard to keep up.
Unfortunately, the whole sordid affair comes at a crucial time for journalism. One of the major arguments for professional journalists is that they subscribe to a code of ethics. For the most part, we expect that they will use legal and ethical methods to “get the story,” and then they will report that story as objectively and honestly as they can.
As a PR consultant, I have worked with probably hundreds of reporters. I believe the vast majority of them subscribe to that code of ethics. I’ve even had discussions over whether reporters could accept a free copy of a book (retail price about $18.99), when the book was connected to the story they were writing.
And then there are the reporters who go over the line. Hacking phone records is bad enough. Hacking phone records of victims or families of victims is, frankly, disgusting. And bribing police officials lifts this story out of the realm of tabloid fodder into the realm of courts and law and politics.
It is an interesting tale to watch. But I certainly hope it does not tarnish or otherwise diminish the good work done by hundreds of hard-working journalists (including “citizen journalists”) who truly do help uncover and report “the news of the world.”