Week In News: U.K. 'News Of The World' Scandal

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Rupert Murdoch's tabloid News of the World closes its doors Sunday after more than a century and a half in business. That follows the revelation that reporters there tapped the phones of crime victims, dead soldiers and even the royal family to get scoops for their paper. Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about this story and others from the past week.

GUY RAZ, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON: I feel so appalled by what has happened; murder victims, terrorist victims who've had their phones hacked is quite disgraceful. That is why it's important there is a full police investigation.

RAZ: British Prime Minister David Cameron addressing Parliament on Thursday about the fallout from the News of the World phone tapping controversy. For more on this and other stories, James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays, this week from San Francisco. Jim, hi.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy. Nice to talk to you.

RAZ: The 168-year-old tabloid, the News of the World, is going to publish its last paper ever tomorrow. This, of course, is a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. There doesn't, of course, appear to be any evidence that Murdoch himself knew anything about the phone hacking. But clearly, this is going to have some kind of effect or impact on his publishing empire, don't you think, Jim?

FALLOWS: Oh, it certainly will. And I think that Murdoch, who's now 80, has had a very long and dramatic career. This could well be the event he is remembered for. If people at his organization did not know about these hackings and crimes and bribes, as they're now saying, then they're incompetent because they went on for so long with such thoroughness and such varied(ph) parts of British society. So I think that one way or another, there is more to come here.

Of course, the reason that matters to Murdoch is at the moment, he's pending government approval in Britain for his complete purchase of the BSkyB cable network, which now has a significant share. And part of the fear in Britain is that the same kind of political influence he's had directly in the U.S. with Fox News is what he has in mind with BSkyB. So I think we'll be watching this very carefully, and for months probably.

RAZ: It also tells us a lot about the tabloid culture in Britain, which not surprisingly is much far worse than it is here in the U.S.

FALLOWS: Americans who had not spent time in the U.K. might be startled to know how much coarser the tabloid culture is there. It's no coincidence that the editors of big U.S. tabloids like the National Enquirer are usually Fleet Street veterans. And so it's always been that way. But Murdoch in recent decades has pushed the envelope, and apparently he's now pushed it too far.

RAZ: Jim, I want to ask you about the jobs report that came out on Friday. On your blog, you wrote that it made you wonder whether as a political system we ever learn anything. You were referring to the government's response to the economic crisis of the '30s and the 1970s.

FALLOWS: What surprised me was the comment by President Obama this week that the government, much like an ordinary family, had to balance its budgets and to tighten its belt when things got tough.

And, in fact, the lesson of the now 80 years since the Great Depression began is that the government is different from ordinary families, in that when demand is collapsing, that's the time when governments around the world have been increasing their spending so that people who don't have jobs anymore from private functions get them as teachers or as public servants or whatever.

This is what China has done to huge success in the last two years. So to hear the president say that, well, as private demand is falling, it's time for the government, too, to cut back and to really be even tighter on budget cutting was a surprising comment from a Democrat, especially.

RAZ: Well, finally, Jim, Betty Ford, the former first lady, passed away yesterday, age 93. You know, you think about the sort of reality TV culture today where, you know, everyone bares their soul. And yet when Betty Ford, when she admitted that she had a substance abuse problem, that was revolutionary, right?

FALLOWS: It's true. And we do, as you say, we now take it for granted, thanks to Oprah and many others, that private problems, private insecurities are a public material. But until Betty Ford, there had not been a political figure of her prominence who had come forward to say, first, with the announcement that she'd had breast cancer and a mastectomy, and then with her alcohol and addiction problems, there hadn't been somebody like that who'd said, I am human, I have these weaknesses, perhaps I can help other people who are weak too. And I think what she will be remembered for is the decades after she was in the White House as a symbol in that field.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks again.

FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.

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