Two weeks ago, Britain was a nation lost, permanently ill at ease, with a mutant, hybrid government and an air of meekness and gloom. There wasn’t anything to distract us, to feel particularly ashamed or proud of—everything was just a bit depressing. Nine out of ten news stories were about Kate Middleton’s hats (too Canadian?) or clavicles (too pointy?). In Europe, we would have just looked insensitive if we had complained about our dull, entrenched problems, given the exuberant sleaziness in Italy and chaos in Greece.
When Rupert Murdoch acquired The Times of London and The Sunday Times in 1981, he also acquired a board of “independent national directors”-among them, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. Two years later, by way of a shady German tabloid, The Sunday Times bought the rights to a series of newly discovered journals supposedly written by Adolf Hitler. Some of us thought this didn’t so much just smell fishy as reek, coming as it did after a long line of similar forgeries.
An article in The New York Times Magazine doesn’t becomes the big political story in London every week, but the Times piece “Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond” has been a front-pager and led on the TV news here. The tabloid in question is the News of the World, one of whose reporters was imprisoned a few years ago for “phone-hacking,” or intercepting cell phone calls, most notably from the two young princes, William and Harry. Although Andy Coulson, the editor of the paper at the time, was forced to leave his job, he denied any knowledge of malfeasance.