Posted by: Jennifer | July 13, 2011

when pop culture is to blame

I think that, for me, this section of a NY Times article spells out the most disturbing part of the NoTW hacking scandal:

For a long time, the phone-hacking scandal was viewed as an intramural affair in which celebrities, royals and the people who hounded them slugged it out, with law enforcement mostly serving as a bystander. Everyone had fun with Fleet Street’s swashbuckling ways, right up until one of the buckles came undone to reveal that a 13-year-old murder victim and the families of dead soldiers were getting the same treatment as those residing in Buckingham Palace.

Only then did the public come off the sidelines, perhaps realizing that it was no longer O.K. to condemn the gossip gatherers while feasting on their daily morsels. Forget the government inquiries into the conduct of the press, the public itself seems to have had its fill.

So when the only people being hacked, harassed, and gossiped about were famous people, the public was perfectly okay with the idea that the people that provided them with this “news” would break the law while obtaining that news. After all, these were celebrities and therefore they shouldn’t be afforded with the same legal and moral protection as everyone else. Or at least, that was the common way of thinking. And then the story became about a non-celebrity and suddenly it was a little too personal. If they could (and would) hack into the voicemail of a murdered child, what could (and would) stop them from listening to my voicemail? Or yours? Or that guy’s over there? NOW we’re outraged, because it’s about us and not them.

The fact that these so-called journalists were willing to go to such lengths to know what Hugh Grant was thinking — how could anyone NOT think that the same practices were being used to fill column inches in the rest of the paper? It’s easy for everyone to blame this one news organization and the people who ran it, and I’m sure that more heads are going to roll for what happened, but the public also does need to shoulder some of this responsibility. The readers of this paper — and in fact, the entire celebrity-gossip-obsessed culture of the world — made it okay for reporters to go to whatever lengths were necessary to fill our need for a peek at peoples’ private lives. We told these reporters that this behaviour was acceptable. We can’t now be self-righteous and pretend that we had nothing to do with it.

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