Checkbook Journalism’s Slippery Slope : CJR
Combine the culture of checkbook journalism with the culture of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and you get one of the biggest media scandals of all time.
Paying for news is at the root of News Corp.’s hacking and bribery scandals, and the reaction by tabloid hacks to the revelations about The Sun is revealing about the journalistic environment that gave rise to them.
Here’s Murdoch’s former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, writing in the Daily Mail (emphasis mine) :
If the whistle-blower asks for money, so what? It’s better that we know, for example, that our local hospital is killing its elderly patients through lack of care than have the Press ignore a nurse or an ambulance driver who is asking for payment for such information.
I suspect you, as a reader, will be pleased that newspapers report such scandals, even if they have to pay money to find out about them. How, otherwise, would we discover what’s really happening?
By reporting, I reckon. U.S. newspapers have frequently exposed abusive nursing homes and defective hospitals over the years, using conventional reporting methods. In fact, that story is something of a staple of U.S. journalism. And, really, does there exist an ambulance driver or nurse so callous as to demand a payoff before blowing the whistle on a “local hospital killing its elderly patients through lack of care?” Or is that just a made-up example? And besides, we’re not talking about killer-hospital stories. These is basically about gossip, isn’t it?
Nice try, MacKenzie.
Here’s Sun deputy editor Trevor Kavanagh attacking the police raids on his colleagues a couple of weeks ago (emphasis his):
These stories sometimes involve whistleblowers. Sometimes money changes hands. This has been standard procedure as long as newspapers have existed, here and abroad.
There is nothing disreputable about it. And, as far as we know at this point, nothing illegal.
The Sun is accused of getting stories by systematically bribing police and other government officials with hundreds of thousands of pounds—something Rupert Murdoch has all but admitted. Some officials were effectively on retainer to provide what the cops say was mostly “salacious gossip.”