Darling of the Guardian, Simon Hoggart, is quoted in a New York Times piece today celebrating the demise of the News of the World:
But for all the questions about how Mr. Cameron will weather the scandal, Mr. Murdoch has been much the larger target. Simon Hoggart, a columnist for The Guardian, described the relief among British politicians at seeing the Murdoch empire brought low.
For years, members of Parliament “have been terrified of the Murdoch press — terrified they might lose support, terrified, in some cases, that their private lives might be exposed,” he wrote. “But that has gone. News International has crossed a line and M.P.’s feel, like political prisoners after a tyrant has been condemned to death by a people’s tribunal, that they are at last free.”
I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t consider the alleged behavior of the News of the World to be beyond the pale. Hacking phones, spying on the dead, and bribing the police are all grounds for unequivocal condemnation, and judgment should thus be in no way contingent upon politics or partisanship. But, there is a slightly nauseating undercurrent to much of the merrymaking. No doubt it can be satisfying to watch the mighty fall, but we should remember that the United Kingdom is not Italy, where the prime minister owns 90 percent of the press. Rupert Murdoch owns just two newspapers, The Sun, and The Times, and they are counterbalanced by many others — including Mr. Hoggart’s employer, the Guardian. News International’s organs have by no means been consistently partisan: The Sun endorsed the Labour Party in 1997, 2001, and 2005, only switching to the Conservatives in the last election in 2010.
Simon Hoggart may well lament that “members of Parliament have been terrified of the Murdoch press,” but the citizens of the United Kingdom should not. Is that not how things should be? One can paraphrase Thomas Jefferson neatly, and argue that, “When the press fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the press, there is liberty.” The transgressions of the News of the World must be punished insofar as they are criminal, but anything beyond that wanders into dangerous territory. One can only hope that the relief we are witnessing from many quarters is based solely on contempt for the actions they have taken, rather than on a more insidious pleasure that a popular paper of a center-right publisher has gone up in smoke.