An Actual Fourth Estate

Rupert Murdoch gets it in:


Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown brought new and alarming charges on Tuesday to the broadening scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Britain, accusing one of the most prestigious newspapers in the group of employing "known criminals" to gather personal information on his bank account, legal files and tax affairs.

The claims came a day after the crisis deepened with reports that two Murdoch newspapers may have bribed police officers or used other potentially illegal methods to obtain information about Queen Elizabeth II as well as Mr. Brown . 

At the same time, two former journalists for The News of the World -- the newspaper at the epicenter of the scandal, which the Murdoch family closed last weekend -- said police officers had been bribed to use restricted cellphone-tracking technology to pinpoint the location of people sought by the papers in their pursuit of scoops.

David Carr credits the unique function of newspapers themselves for bringing the out the story--a function with Murdoch has traditionally been unimpressed:

Still, how did we find out that a British tabloid was hacking thousands of voice mails of private citizens? Not from the British government, with its wan, inconclusive investigations, but from other newspapers... 

Newspapers, it turns out, are still powerful things, and not just in the way that Mr. Murdoch has historically deployed them. The Guardian stayed on the phone-hacking story like a dog on a meat bone, acting very much in the British tradition of a crusading press, and goosing the story back to life after years of dormancy...

Mr. Murdoch, ever the populist, prefers his crusades to be built on chronic ridicule and bombast. But as The Guardian has shown, the steady accretion of fact -- an exercise Mr. Murdoch has historically regarded as bland and elitist -- can have a profound effect. 

His corporation may be able to pick governments, but holding them accountable is also in the realm of newspaper journalism, an earnest concept of public service that has rarely been of much interest to him.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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