What worked for British tabloids won’t work for The Washington Post

What worked for British tabloids won’t work for The Washington Post

Anne Applebaum writes:

In March of 2002, Milly Dowler, age 13, left her home in Walton-on-Thames for the last time. After she disappeared, her parents called the police. A search began. Blanket news coverage followed. In those days, probably a dozen British tabloids and half a dozen higher-brow broadsheets all chased the same stories. In an effort to beat his newspaper’s rivals, an investigator employed by News of the World, one of those tabloids, hacked into Dowler’s cellphone. He was looking for messages that offered clues; he may or may not have deleted some messages, thereby giving her family false hope that she might be alive.

A few months later, Dowler’s body was found. Several years after that, British police uncovered evidence of the phone hack, along with evidence that the phones of many other people—actors, athletes, Prince Harry—had been hacked by News of the World journalists in pursuit of other stories. The nation recoiled in horror: What kind of monster would hack the phone of a missing child? The Dowlers, along with a whole raft of celebrities, sued News of the World and its parent company, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch shut down the paper and, over many years, paid out millions of pounds in damages. Prince Harry’s suit is still in the courts.

I am telling this story because it forms part of the background to another story, this one about The Washington Post, where I once worked, first as an editorial writer and then as a columnist. But before I get to that, I want to point out that the British phone-hacking scandal was unique in only one sense: There were negative consequences for the newspaper and its owner. More often there weren’t. [Continue reading…]

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