Don't Go, Mr. Murdoch! Why the World Needs the Tabloid King

The hacking scandal at British newspaper News of the World confirms many of the left's worst suspicions about the tabloids. But those who look down on the yellow press are actually contemptuous of the very people who make these papers big and powerful.

As much as the left hates them, tabloids serve a purpose.
DPA

As much as the left hates them, tabloids serve a purpose.

A Commentary by


The easiest solution would be that of simply banning tabloids. No more newspapers that calculate for their readers exactly what saving the euro will cost them or break down the expense of recurring welfare fraud. No headlines decrying green energy, lax criminal sentences or impudent foreigners. Instead, we could just have well-meaning commentaries about why we should help out the Greeks and further indebt ourselves by expanding our social system.

Perhaps we should also just get rid of private television. The public channels, to be sure, are not always bastions of high culture. But at least the politicians have some say, which guarantees a certain controlling influence on churlish journalistic behavior.

What a blessing it is that Rupert Murdoch exists. If nothing else, it provides us with an enemy. The revelations about perfidious hacking at the Sunday paper News of the World have merely confirmed the belief on the left that the tabloids will stop at nothing. Though most of those outraged by Murdoch and his company's research practices have probably never held one of his tabloids in their hands, one can always be outraged from afar. Indeed, it is even better than being too close.

The unfolding case provides another sobering example of the lengths to which some will go when the boundaries are not clearly defined. It's the same in journalism as in any other industry. Practices like mobile phone tapping and police bribery are pursued to insure a competitive advantage. It's clearly illegal, and should be investigated by state prosecutors. But, with Murdoch involved, it is impossible to view the situation coolly. Even the euro crisis, the Women's World Cup and the recent summer interview with Chancellor Angela Merkel pale in comparison.

Murdoch, the Stalwart Conservative

A glance at the television coverage and the op-eds in recent days would be enough to convince anyone that the media mogul from Adelaide governs Downing Street and that Great Britain is mired in a scandal akin to Watergate. Everywhere one can read about the extent of his media power. His real crime, though, are his views, even if no one will say so. He's known to be a stalwart conservative whose newspapers reliably bang the right-wing drum -- and that was plenty to make him an object of hatred.

It goes without saying that progressives would be more merciful in the verdicts they have passed on the tabloid press had they themselves ever found success in the genre. But it is difficult to create a left-wing version of The Sun. One can only tell readers so often why young criminals deserve compassion instead of tougher prison sentences, or why each foreigner is a blessing for the country to which he has immigrated. People still cling tightly to their prejudices, contemptuously leaving the pedagogical messages behind at the newsstand.

Some media scholars conclude that tabloids corrupt the people by telling them what to think and vote. But, in reality, their success comes from a clear intuition for collective sentiments, which they then nurture with catchy headlines.

Who Makes Tabloids Powerful?

Those who condemn a nation's tabloid press are actually condemning the segment of the population that makes such products big and powerful. The intelligensia has always struggled with the simple masses. Indeed, it is truly painful to know exactly what is good for the country, but to fail to earn mass approval, whether at the newsstand or the voting booth.

As early as the French Revolution, Enlightenment thinkers were forced to recognize an aggravating gap between the populace as they imagined it and the actual people who took to the stage as revolutionary subjects. In 1793, when food riots shook Paris, one of the era's key figures, Maximilien de Robespierre, said that while he wouldn't accuse the people of incriminating themselves, he had hoped they would have loftier aims. "When the people rise up, should they not have a goal worthy of them?" he asked. "Should they be concerned about a bag of groceries?"

It's been that way ever since: The avant-garde makes lofty, magnanimous plans while the crowd seeks to fill more tangible needs.

For the sake of the left, one can only hope that Rupert Murdoch holds on a bit longer. At least they know who they're dealing with. Glenn Beck has lost his show, and Silvio Berlusconi is on his way out. If Murdoch surrenders, there won't be anyone left to blame for their own failures. That would be a true loss.

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