“[Sebastian Flyte] turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, ‘Another naughty scout-master.’ Oh, don’t be a bore, Charles, I want to read about a woman in Hull who’s been using an instrument. ‘Thirty-eight other cases were taken into consideration in sentencing her to six months,’ golly!” — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.” – George Orwell, Decline of the English Murder
Both authors quoted above, or their characters, are consciously “slumming” it by picking up a newspaper that was intended for the less-literate elements of the proletariat. But for decades, in fact since well back into the mid-Victorian epoch, Britain’s News of the World was the winning formula for the depiction of crime and squalor and vice. The brilliance of the formula lay in its venerable hypocrisy; actually in two distinct kinds of venerable hypocrisy. First, the sad news of human frailty was not bugled with lurid and sensational tactics. It was laid out more in sorrow than in anger, published on a Sabbath day that was still full of legal and moral force, and strove to show how easy was the fall from grace. Second, and in keeping, its reporters and editors took a very high moral tone. They would take the investigation of a brothel, say, only so far. Once a certain point of complicity had been reached, there would appear a phrase that became celebrated both in print and in court. “At this stage,” the reporter would solemnly intone, “I made an excuse and left.” This degree of detachment was thought essential to the proper conduct of business.
Hand it to Rupert Murdoch and his minions: They got hold of the solid old “News of the Screws” or “Nudes of the World” and made it into a paper where the question was not how low can poor human nature sink, but rather is there anything, however depraved, that a reporter cannot be induced to do?
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