"Thank You and Goodbye" was the headline of Britain's biggest selling newspaper Sunday, The News of the World. After 168 years, amid an escalating scandal of phone hacking, the paper published its last issue.
With the last edition of the tabloid in hand, Rupert Murdoch descended on the U.K. on Sunday to face the growing scandal that prompted the paper's closure.
TV footage showed the News Corp. CEO being driven into the east London offices of his U.K. newspaper division, News International. The 80-year-old Murdoch was seated in the front passenger seat of a red Range Rover with a copy of the last issue of the best-selling Sunday tabloid in his hands.
The 8,674th edition apologizes for letting the paper's readers down, but stops short of acknowledging recent allegations that its journalists paid police for information.
"There was an editorial where they say, 'We're truly sorry, we lost our way,'" NPR's David Folkenflik tells Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer, "but all in all, they seemed to assign this to a few bad apples, which is now something really under attack. The people there now say, 'Hey, not our fault, but we're taking the blame.'"
A Guilty Pleasure No More
In Britain, devotees of the tabloid are wistful, Folkenflik says. "It's been an expected friend that they can turn to every Sunday. I talked to a number of people who said, 'Look, it was a good combination of news and gossip, and you could rely on it.'" Others said they liked to dip into it as they would any popular magazine.
"It was a bit of a guilty pleasure, really," said Lorna Conlon of Ireland. "It's a bit of nothingness, like the paper. There's not really anything like too much substance in it — you don't really believe half of what you read — but it's like reading a magazine, really."
"People are saying they can get this elsewhere," Folkenflik says, "but that they'll miss it in the News of the World."
Anger From The Workers
The staff of the defunct tabloid, on the other hand, are angry. "Most of the people on staff at The News of the World had nothing to do with this scandal, as most of them weren't there in the time that it occurred," Folkenflik says. "It sort of ended at 2006, with the first revelations of hacking into the mobile phones of the royals."
"There was a very confrontational meeting that the staff held on Friday with Rebekah Brooks, who is the chief executive of the British newspaper division of News Corp.," he continues.
"People at the newspaper are wondering why they lose their jobs when she gets to keep hers," he says. "After all, she had been editor of News of the World herself at a time when murder victims' voicemails had been hacked by investigators for the paper. And she's been overseeing the company at a time when it turns out that the scandal has metastasized."
Folkenflik reports widespread belief that another tabloid, The Sun, will take The News of the World's place on Sunday. It's thought The Sun may hire some of the staff released by the World, too. "That's a wide, deep-spread belief," he says. "Folks at News Corp.'s British division tell us nothing is set yet, they haven't decided."
The Story's Not Over Yet
Meanwhile, the political fallout is still coming fast and furious. On Sunday, The Sunday Times, another paper owned by Murdoch and News Corp., told of an 2007 internal report from News International. The report found hacking to be widespread but was not released to authorities — nor was it given to Murdoch's son, James, who heads the company's British operations.
The consequences of that report could be a big deal, Folkenflik says. "First off, it might implicate the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, Les Hinton, who, at the time, was the chief executive of News International," he says.
"Secondly, it's caused the head of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, to say we should stop Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. from gaining control of the nation's largest broadcaster BSkyB," Folkenflik adds. "That's very much up in the air, [a] very big issue." Big enough to bring Murdoch himself to Britain's shores.