In 1987 I was a feature writer and columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, now defunct. I was sent to London to cover the February 14 wedding of Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, to a nice Dallas woman, Diane Burgdorf. (She has since divorced Thatcher and remarried, as has he.)
The news hook for my covering the wedding is obvious.
I managed to produce one to three stories a day for several days leading up to the wedding– business stories, fashion stories, Dallas socialite guest stories– and sent them by modem, that at the time, was the size of a briefacse.
Along the way of covering wedding-related events in London, I met a young male reporter from News Of The World. Maybe it was Nigel or Mark or Owen or Clive, who knows. He was my introduction to tabloids and Fleet Street.
The really funny part is he offered me money– I think a few hundred dollars– if I could confirm for him whether or not Mark Thatcher’s bride was a virgin. He wanted to include that in his news story about the nuptials.
“Now exactly how would I do that?” I asked.
He was not sure. Of course I did not take the money and I called my editor, Dave Burgin. We had a good laugh.
The next day the same reporter asked me if I wanted to disguise myself as a member of the Hotel Savoy staff and sneak into the wedding as a server. He planned to dress like a waiter.
We would both get scoops.
I called my editor. He told me to stop talking to the reporter.
True, this was Three Stooges, bumbling, unethical, stupid reporter stuff. They serve now as anecdotes I can tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. But it was wrong then.
The unethical practices over the decades that made the News of The World sleazy then are what made it sleazy enough now for Ruper Murdoch to kill it.
Hacking into the phone lines of victims is outrageous and so obviously wrong not just for an ethical journalist, but for a thinking, compassionate human being that the paper deserves to go under.
It is even more stupid than trying to determine the chastity of a young bride. Or dressing up and pretending to be someone you are not.
The Dallas Times Herald did not deserve to close, but died because of a poor economy and bad business decisions.
And though I am sorry the 200 reporters at the publication lose their jobs as of Sunday, The News of The World deserves to die. And even though it is a British tradition, I won’t say “Long live the…”