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Diane Roberts
Sunday, July 17, 2011
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At Last, At Last, It's the End of the World

Michele Bachmann has recently revealed that she became a tax lawyer because God told her husband she should. And her husband Marcus (the one with the correspondence-school doctorate who "cures" gayness) told her to.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain, another distinguished Republican candidate, has suggested we build a "Great Wall of China" with a moat full of alligators across the Mexican border.

This kind of thing is what is called an embarrassment of riches. Or some rich damned embarrassment. In any case, I must resist. There's a much, much bigger story: the end of the World.

I speak, of course, of the News of the World -- or "News of the Screws" as British aficionados called it, a newspaper that first appeared in 1843, back when Queen Victoria was a babe-alicious 24 and Texas was not yet a part of the Union (good times!).

Until it shut last Sunday, The News of the Screws' owner was the supremely scaly Rupert Murdoch. His "newspaper" has been hiring criminals to steal information and then trying to cover it up. Some of the other London rags now call it "the paper that died of shame" but that's not really true. Murdoch wouldn't know shame if it bit him repeatedly on the buttocks.

The News of the World was the largest English-language paper in the world, with a circulation of nearly 3,000,000 and a yearly profit of well over a billion dollars. Old Man Murdoch -- always on the make -- has been trying to acquire all the shares in broadcast giant BSkyB, Britain's largest cable company, a move that would require government approval. Closing The News of the World was merely damage control, a gesture in the face of public outrage. After all, Murdoch's papers had pushed David Cameron for prime minister, just as his slime-trailing American Hydra, Fox News, has aided and abetted the Tea Party and hired right-wing screamers such as Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich. Now, with the scale of the Murdoch empire's conflation of criminality with journalism becoming epic, the tabloid that electioneered for every prime minister since Margaret Thatcher may bring one down -- and not even on purpose.

It's one thing to hack into the voice mails of movie stars and other public figures. It's quite a different animal when reporters start hacking into the voice mails of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. And victims of the terrorist bombings in London in 2007 and their families. And Millie Dowling, a young girl who was kidnaped. News of the World "reporters," and the password-busting private detectives on their lavish payroll, figured that by deleting some of the messages from frantic family and friends on her cell phone (presumably still in Millie's possession), they would ensure that no rival paper could get them. Except Millie's family thought that she was deleting the messages, indicating that she was still alive. She was later found murdered.

It gets better (or worse, if you have any ethical sense at all). The News of the World bribed cops. And Murdoch minions tried to pay the Royal Protection Squad for help in hacking the cell phones of the Prince of Wales and his wife. And when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, Murdoch employees illegally obtained sensitive medical information about his baby. Little Fraser Brown was born with cystic fibrosis. Rebekah Brooks, the then-editor of the Sun, also a Murdoch paper, a woman whom Sarah Brown considered a friend, published a story about Fraser's condition a matter of hours after his parents were told. Another Murdoch paper, the once-respected Sunday Times, got illicit access to Gordon Brown's bank accounts, trying to dig up nonexistent dirt.

As I write this, the allegations are piling higher than bat poop in a tight cave. The scandal has jumped the Atlantic. Families of 9/11 victims may have had their phones hacked; certainly at least one New York cop was offered a bribe by a News of the World employee. Les Hinton, publisher of The Wall Street Journal (yet another Murdoch-owned paper), may be implicated in a cover-up. In 2007, when he was CEO of News International, the parent company of Murdoch's British media holdings, he pleaded the "bad apple" defense, telling a government commission that the hacking was done by one naughty reporter.

Yeah, and I'm Richard Nixon. The Guardian, a fine commie pinko British newspaper I am proud to say I occasionally write for, broke the story years ago but couldn't get either Scotland Yard (maybe because so many officers were on the take) or the government interested. Now the story may bring down a government and one of the nastiest families since the Borgias. The BskyB deal is in deep trouble. James Murdoch, the old man's son and heir, will surely be hauled before a parliamentary enquiry and, if the bribery charges stick, he may be prosecuted in the United States. Rebekah Brooks, former head of News International, used to hang out with David Cameron and his wife on the weekends; their country houses are only a few miles apart. By calling for her resignation, perhaps he hoped to deflect attention from the inconvenient fact that he hired Andy Coulson, a former editor of News of the World when much of the hacking was taking place, as his press secretary a couple of years back. Coulson was arrested this month.

So farewell then, News of the World. You were a tabloid's tabloid: transcendently trashy, so far over the top as to be practically in orbit, a mullet wrapper, an organ with no socially redeeming qualities whatsoever. Despite the baroque headlines ("Nudist Welfare Man's Model-Wife Fell for the Chinese Hypnotist from the Co-op Bacon Factory"), The News of the World had become another sleazy cog in Murdoch's king-making machine.

I'm glad it was a better paper that killed it.

That faint giggling noise you hear?

It's schadenfreude.

Diane Roberts is Solares Hill Capital Bureau Chief.