The Corner

Tahrir Square Comes to Fleet Street

The New York Times has shown an inordinate interest in the demise of Britain’s News Of The World, a newspaper 99.99 percent of Times readers have never read and I’d wager a majority had never heard of until a week ago. By contrast, the paper appears to have absolutely no interest in, say, the use of stimulus funds to murder a U.S. Border Patrol agent. One understands, of course, that the Times is rattled by Rupert Murdoch’s revitalization of the Wall Street Journal as a broadsheet with appeal to more than merely the financial world, and so it is in the paper’s interest to pile on Mr. Murdoch. But, even so, this is ridiculous:

In truth, a kind of British Spring is under way, now that the News Corporation’s tidy system of punishment and reward has crumbled. Members of Parliament, no longer fearful of retribution in Mr. Murdoch’s tabloids, are speaking their minds and giving voice to the anger of their constituents. Meanwhile, social media has roamed wild and free across the story, punching a hole in the tiny clubhouse that had been running the country. Democracy, aided by sunlight, has broken out in Britain.

“British Spring” as in Arab Spring? Ruthless tyrant Rupsi Murdaroch forced into exile at Sharm al-Sheila back in Oz? British MPs, no longer “fearful of retribution,” are transformed overnight: Yesterday, they were Claude Rains in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, corrupt toadies doing the bidding of Boss Murdoch. Today, they’re getting in touch with their inner Jimmy Stewart.

As with the Arab Spring, the British Spring can more or less be guaranteed to turn out the opposite of the Times’s sunny predictions. On the whole, I prefer an unrespectable reptilian press sticking its foot in the grieving widow’s doorway to, say, a media of portentous over-credentialed unreadable drones with no greater ambition than to serve as court eunuchs to the Obama administration. If the National Enquirer operated to the high-minded standards of the New York Times, John Edwards might now be vice president or attorney general. If Murdoch’s tabloids “destroy lives,” as the Times airily claims, they’re at least equal-opportunity destroyers, as willing to plaster a Tory rent-boy over the front page as a Labour one.

By contrast, the New York Times happily colluded in the destruction of the Duke lacrosse players’ lives for no reason other than ideological predisposition to a politically correct narrative. I would say that, whether through malice or intellectual torpor, that kind of bias is far more damaging to public discourse. And it’s the one Britain’s likely to end up with more of if the Times’ kindred spirits in London get their way. The actor (and phone-hacking target) Hugh Grant has become, somewhat improbably, a spokesperson for the anti-Murdoch forces. Here’s what he said on the BBC:

I’m not for regulating the proper press, the broadsheet press. But we need regulation of the tabloid press.

Ah, right. The papers you read are fine. It’s the papers those ghastly oiks read that need regulating because the great unwashed can’t be trusted to evaluate this stuff properly anymore than they can be trusted to choose their own light bulbs.

Does Hugh Grant’s statement sound like any credo of democracy? Or does it sound more like a smug, patrician elite that would find things more convenient if it could only narrow the parameters of public discourse? “All the news that’s fit to print,” as someone once said. “A tiny clubhouse running the country,” in the Times’s more recent words. And they should know.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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