The unexpected tabloid celebrity-hunter
Jul 22, 2011
The downfall of tabloid celebrities exposes the dark side of journalism, revealing illicit practices and implicating top figures in a phone-hacking scandal.
Nothing is quite like one day after another. Over the past decade, few figures have been as pursued, vilified, and humiliated on the covers of English red tops as Naomi Campbell and Hugh Grant. Naomi was an inexhaustible source of scandals: cocaine, diamonds gifted by genocidal men, boyfriends with a penchant for violence; Grant, while dating the dazzling Liz Hurley, was caught receiving a "treat" from a prostitute in LA. Now, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, these two are responsible for stories leading their personal inquisitors to their downfall. It's hard to imagine what happens in real life - the largest supplier of great stories. Who could have imagined that two journalistic stories would emerge from the "raw material" of the tabloids?
Grant's feat is more complex. Tired of being pursued by the tabloids, he decided to take revenge. With a hidden microphone, he invited a former tabloid editor for a beer and extracted a series of compromising confessions. The story was published in the independent magazine The New Statesman in April, and was crucial in widening the gap of the NOTW, as the former editor spilled the beans, implicating Andy Coulson (former editor of the NOTW and former communication advisor to the mediocre prime minister David Cameron), Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch, etc. A scoop. And when the NOTW scandal finally exploded, Grant went public, putting maximum pressure on the dark side of the force.
Campbell was more subtle (and her participation has not yet had consequences, but it may turn into a storm). Four years ago, she interviewed the former editor of the Daily Mirror and News of The World, Piers Morgan, for GQ magazine. Morgan is a repulsive character. Imagine David Brent, from the series The Office. Now add even more arrogance and a complete lack of scruples. In the interview, Campbell presses and Morgan confesses that he engaged in the same illegal practices as the NOTW when he was at the Daily Mirror (which does not belong to the Murdochs). Moreover, he admits without mincing words that the tabloids and their editors (among whom he includes himself) know that the paparazzi and sellers of scandalous stories are "worms" and that just because the tabloid publishes the story, it doesn't mean that "it doesn't know that it's horrible", but because it sells.
Morgan's confession, arrogant and super confident, could be just another star in his vast collection of sins, but the detail is that today, he is the prime anchor of CNN, having taken over the slot of the legendary Larry King, who retired last year. Thus, CNN now has as the main character of its journalism a very likely candidate to be swallowed up by the phone-hacking scandal soon, as everything indicates that the implosion of the NOTW should hit other newspapers and former editors - exactly the profile of Morgan.
In a lecture given a few weeks ago, journalist Paulo Markun spoke about the way journalism was reinventing itself and how the current model was exhausted. He mentioned new ways of doing journalism through the capture and refinement of information (programs like Wondergraphs, for example). However, Campbell and Grant (more him, less her) had very clear insights into journalism in the most classic mode of the profession, something that journalists themselves have forgotten to do - not entirely their fault, but due to tight deadlines, bosses who demand articles with frivolous sub-celebrities, interviews with "cracks" of 18 years old who have never won anything and mediocre politicians who found parties that are not "right, nor center, nor left". Relevant stories happen with the same abundance as always and people need to know about them. What the media need to reassess is how to include in their business plans the need to fulfill their roles as information organs. Otherwise, they can always present themselves as gossip magazines and no longer live in denial.