The unfolding scandal in Britain over eavesdropping by reporters of the News of the World took me back to the summer of 1974.
Fresh out of college, I went to work covering city hall for the San Antonio Express-News. Coincidentally, the paper had just become the first American property of one Rupert Murdoch. The News, the afternoon newspaper of the hyphenated pair, rapidly went from breezy to slam-bam sensational.
Headlines doubled in size. Crime stories and photos of victims’ families dominated the front page. The newspaper introduced “screamers,” tabloid-sized pages with huge headlines that were inserted into a grid above the newsstands.
It was hard to break onto Page 1 with a city council story. One day, I phoned the rewrite desk with a small article about the city commissioning a study into whether suburban communities were paying their fair share of jointly used urban services. It was just a study (even I thought it was a little boring), but it was worth noting somewhere in the paper.
“Not so fast,” the city editor said. “I can make something of this.”
On the way home from work, I saw the final evening edition with my minor story screaming from pages on the street: “CITY DECLARES WAR.”
If Mr. Murdoch had nothing to do with that headline, he had everything to do with it. He had made it known that his newspaper should grab people by the lapels and shake them. The rest was the eager work of editors who had never met him.
Murdoch’s fingerprints probably will not be found on the News of the World scandal. Generals rarely need to give direct commands.
John Yemma is the editor of The Christian Science Monitor.