Gay Celebrities & Politicians Cheer at Crisis in Murdoch’s Press Empire

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday July 16, 2011

"Shut up, you homophobic cow."

Schadenfreude is the great German word for taking pleasure in the sorrows of others, usually implied that the former is getting comeuppance. That may be apt for how the New York Times has been avidly reporting the travails of Rupert Murdoch, one of the most powerful press barons in the world and a scourge of the Times for its perceived liberal bias.

According to the paper, the then-husband of Rebekah Brooks, until Friday, July 15, one of the most powerful people in British media, uttered the "homophobic cow" comment after she made a snide remark to a gay member of Parliament.

Brooks was the head of New International, the British media powerhouse that published several newspapers under Rupert Murdoch, who owns the New York Post and Fox News in this country. The Times isn't alone in its barely hidden glee at the travails of a man who has long instilled fear in politicians in the U.K.

A seemingly endless series of scandals involving bugging and impersonating people to obtain information on former prime ministers, members of the royal family and even the queen herself has brought Murdoch opprobrium from every corner of Her Majesty's realm.

British tabloid News of the World has been at the heart of recent scandal in which journalists at the paper stand accused of hacking into the voice mail of a missing girl, listening to and then deleting some messages and giving her parents and authorities false hope that she was alive.

In fact, 13-year-old Milly Dowler had been abducted and murdered. Her remains were discovered six months after she disappeared. Convicted killer Levi Bellfield was found guilty of her murder just last month. The cruel saga was made worse by revelations that similarly intrusive actions by journalists associated with the tabloid had targeted people who had been the victims of other crimes.

News of the World was abruptly shuttered by News Corporation, which is owned by Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, whose interests spans the globe and includes American media company Fox News.

Among the tabloid's targets were a number of celebrities. Some of them spoke out with delight at the news of the tabloid's end, including openly gay pop singer George Michael, the Times reported in its July 11 story.

"Hey boyz and girls, a message to my english fans in particular," Michael tweeted on July 7. "Today is a fantastic day for Britain."

Actor Steve Coogan, star of the new Michael Winterbottom movie "The Trip," weighed in as well. Coogan claims that journalists hacked his cell phone. During a July 8 appearance on a BBC news program, Coogan said, "Let's not forget that The News of the World is -- as far as I'm concerned, always has been -- a misogynistic, xenophobic, single-parent-hating, asylum-seeker-hating newspaper, and it's gone to the wall and I'm delighted."

Coogan went on to add, "I think it's a wonderful day for the press: A small victory for decency and humanity. Because people knew this was going on, everyone knew about it but people just accepted it, thought it was part of the landscape to tolerate this kind of behavior."

Coogan later had the opportunity during the BBC appearance to dress down one of the tabloid's former editors, Paul McMullan, the New York Times reported.

McMullen attempted to justify the practice of hacking phones and computers by citing a need to uncover the misdeeds of crooked politicians, but Coogan would have none of it.

"Hang on a second; I'm not a politician -- why go after me? Milly Dowler's relatives are not politicians -- why go after them?" Coogan demanded. "It's morally bankrupt, and you are morally bankrupt."

Coogan dismissed the notion of the tabloid standing watch over the nation's public servants, and said that the tabloid had been more interested in unearthing scandal for the sake of creating media sensation.

"You are not uncovering corruption, you are not bringing down institutions that are inherently corrupt," Coogan told McMullan. "You are just trying to find out who is sleeping with who. It is about selling newspapers."

Actor Hugh Grant suggested on June 6 that politicians had not taken action before the Milly Dowling scandal erupted because they were afraid of what the tabloid press might uncover about their own personal lives. As proof, Grant cited openly gay politician Chris Bryant, a member of Parliament who had gone head to head with News of the World former editor Rebekah Brooks in 2003 about the practice of paying off police for juicy tidbits.

Less than a year later, a photo Bryant took of himself posing in jockey shorts before a mirror and sent to another man via the Internet was published in The Mail on Sunday. Other tabloids made use of the photo, dubbing Bryant "Captain Underpants" and other derogatory names.

Another tabloid owned by News Corporation and edited by Brooks used the photo in 2008, calling Bryant "gay pants," the article noted.

But now Bryant may have his turn: The article noted that Bryant had called for a hearing on the News of the World's reported unsavory activities. In the incident cited above, Brooks seemed to go out of her way to be obnoxious to Bryant. The New York Times reported that she went up to him and said, "Oh, Mr. Bryant, it's after dark. Shouldn't you be on Clapham Common?"

That's a reference to a well-known public park cruising ground. Brooks was married to an English soap-opera star at the time, Ross Kemp, who reportedly contemptuously told his then-wife, "Shut up, you homophobic cow."

George Michael's tweet contained an extra jab reserved for the man at the head of News Corporation.

"Those of you that have wondered why I have had nothing to say this week about Rupert Murdoch, all I can say is that the time will come."

Those words may yet prove prophetic, as Murdoch's entire media empire had been shaken by the scandal.

Murdoch reportedly plans to run a full-page advertisement in another British newspaper, the Guardian, on July 16. In a separate article, The New York Times published the content of the ad in advance.

"The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account," a letter with Murdoch's signature across the bottom read. "It failed when it came to itself.

"We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected," the letter added, before going on say, "I realize that simply apologizing is not enough.

"Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this."

In giant typeface across the top appeared the words, "We are sorry."

But in a July 14 interview with the Wall Street Journal -- another publication that Murdoch owns -- the media tycoon sounded less than remorseful, saying that he was "just getting annoyed" with the ongoing scandal. The fallout not only included the demise of News of the World, but derailed plans to take over Sky Broadcasting, a British pay channel.

"I'll get over it," Murdoch, 80, told his own newspaper. "I'm tired."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.