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Matt Von Pinnon, Published July 24 2011

Von Pinnon: London tabloid learns turnabout is fair play

You don’t have to be an ink-in-the-veins newspaper journalist to be enthralled by the scandalous saga surrounding London tabloid News of the World, parent company News Corp., and giant media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

In fact, if Murdoch hadn’t recently shut down England’s most popular Sunday newspaper in hopes that doing so might save his vast empire, it would be selling more copies than ever these days.

After all, Britons love a good scandal. And this one tops all.

First, the newspaper illegally hacked into people’s private cellphones to try to get scoops and find dirt.

Then they bribed police officers and public officials to get an edge over their competitors.

And finally, it appears the newspaper – and perhaps the company – tried to cover it all up once their illegal practices started coming to light.

Now public officials who benefitted from their cozy relationship with the paper are running scared, afraid to be caught up in the mess.

Officials within News Corp. – whether arrested or not – are being forced out in order to try to save the company from annihilation, and Murdoch, once seen as a primary reason for the company’s success, is now seen by some shareholders as a liability to its future.

Meanwhile, competitors of News Corp. and the many enemies it’s made over the years are lining up to kick it while it’s down – a practice News of the World perfected for those it placed in its crosshairs.

The irony in all of this is immense.

To read the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal these days, you’d think it was a Murdoch competitor: It has been harsher and has thrown more resources at investigating its parent company than almost all other media on the planet.

The Journal is trying harder than ever to assert its newsgathering independence, though some question if those overt efforts can save the Journal from getting caught up in the scandal now that it has reached U.S. shores and the federal Justice Department may get involved.

Many people are using this opportunity to assert that big media needs government oversight.

Do those people really feel that elected officials should be in charge of what citizens know and learn?

Doing so would endanger far more people than News of the World has harmed.

If News of the World, its officials or public officials broke laws, they should be held accountable. No self-respecting journalist feels otherwise.

And despite that this scandal surrounds tabloid journalism, every member of the media who is paying attention should recommit to some foundational tenants of our profession:

Keep reading. The News Corps. scandal is bound to get more bizarre. After all, truth is always stranger than tabloid fiction.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.