In the scandal that destroyed the News of the World, Euripides meets Shakespeare and, hand-in-hand, they storm into the present. The story has it all: Among its protagonists is Rebekah Brooks, the seemingly unscrupulous and successful former secretary who became editor of the highest-selling British tabloid and is now a senior aide in Rupert Murdoch?s global news empire; with her striking looks and friendships with successive prime ministers, Ms Brooks embodies the self-destructive ambition we could expect in a modern version of Lady Macbeth; Murdoch, who is said to consider Brooks as a daughter, has sacrificed a 168-year-old newspaper and many of its 200 employees to save her (and perhaps himself) — as if Agamemnon chose to sacrifice a part of his army in a desperate attempt to save his daughter, rather than kill her for the benefit of his expedition. Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to explain his friendship with Ms Brooks as well as his hiring Andy Coulson — who succeeded her as editor of the News of the World in 2003 — as his press aide until he was forced to let him go. Like Brooks, Coulson has claimed that he knew nothing of his subordinates? illegal use of telephone tapping. (If that were the case, then they were happy to use the success of others for their own advancement).
At the heart of the matter lies the raw material of ancient Athenian tragedy: hubris and the protagonist?s merciless fall. From the revelations that began in 2006 it emerged that in previous years News of the World journalists had paid private investigators to eavesdrop on the telephone calls and voicemail of politicians, celebrities and palace aides. In the last two weeks, however, Britain was rocked by the revelation that the phone of a missing teenager had been tapped into and interfered with, before she was found murdered. The phones of relatives of terrorism victims and of soldiers killed in war were also tapped. Clearly, in the fight to be first, the paper?s senior officials forgot that their mission is to serve and inform the public, not to cannibalize it and break the law. Getting away with it, and the incestuous relationship between the media and politics, created the impression that they could do this with impunity.
As the case develops each day, what remains to be seen is who will be the tragic protagonist and what will be his end. Can Murdoch, the 80-year-old patriarch whose press and television interests span the globe, avert the arrows falling on him and his News Corp? Will Brooks be punished with dismissal (or criminal charges)? Will News of the World and its employees be the only ones to pay for the pride and greed of others.
However the drama plays out, the certain victims are those whose phones were tapped into — and the very idea of a just society where the weak are not fodder for a spectacle shaped by dark forces whose existence they cannot begin to imagine.