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UK phone hacking: Would the US press do this?

The UK phone hacking scandal just brought down the Murdoch tabloid The News of the World. Is the UK press culture going to change?

By Staff writer / July 7, 2011

This is a July 6 file photo of a "News of the World" sign, seen by an entrance at the premises of News International in London. James Murdoch, News Corporation executive, says the "News of the World" will publish its last issue on Sunday.

Matt Dunham/AP

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The UK and the US, two countries divided by a common language is how the old saw goes. And just as we often have mutually unintelligible slang, the press cultures on either side of the Atlantic are dramatically different.

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That's being brought out by the storm of controversy surrounding The News of the World and its former editor Rebekah Brooks. The Rupert Murdoch tabloid used a private investigator to hack into the cell phone of a missing 13-year-old girl in 2003, listening to the panicked messages of her parents and friends to write stories. The girl was later found dead.

Today, Murdoch's News Corporation announced the 168-year-old paper is shutting in response to the scandal. Murdoch's son James said in a statement "the good things the News of the World does, however, have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

What happened?

The paper also hacked into the cell phones of victims of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on the public transit system and paid police officers for information in other cases. The Daily Telegraph reports today that a private investigator on The News of the World payroll had also compiled personal information about British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guardian reports that British police are investigating whether The News of the World distributed $150,000 to a group of police officers in 2003.

Ms. Brooks, now CEO of News International, is facing growing demands that she resign as the head of Mr. Murdoch's UK print operations. Advertisers have been abandoning the tabloid in droves, and the British parliament is gearing up for hearings on new ways to regulate the press.

While the US stereotype is of a staid and stodgy Britain, when it comes to the press we're the dull ones. Our tabloids may be competitive but the UK's are viciously so. They're also a little trashier. The homepage for The News of the World today, for instance, has no fewer than six beautiful women in bikinis or lingerie (yes I counted, glazing over at the paparazzi snapshot of England footballer Frank Lampard's bare bottom. The things I do for this job.) The homepage for The New York Post, Murdoch's flagship American tabloid, has no flesh at all.

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