Words matter. Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks learned first-hand this week just how much words matter. And, thanks to our bountiful English language with its sea of synonyms and idioms, the rest of us learned a boatload of ways to say, “What goes around, comes around.”
You could say it was kismet or karma or “just desserts.” Or, you could say, the media tycoon and the chief of his British newspaper division got a double-dose of their own medicine.
Mr. Murdoch and Ms. Brooks not only became the tabloid fodder of the very kind of sensational headlines they promote but wouldn’t be caught dead in. They became the fodder of the mainstream media, as well — with one big exception: Murdoch’s American baby, FOX News Channel, who only flashed the scandal purely by accident while dissing their latest nemesis, online media outlet, Media Matters, repeatedly airing images from Media Matter’s website, which happened to be carrying the Murdoch scandal.
Still, the most mouthwatering plateful of “just desserts” came directly from the pages of Murdoch’s tabloid at the center of the scandal, News of the World — in a handful of words, cryptically hidden in its final edition.
The scandal stemmed from longtime accusations of illegal methods of news gathering by the newspaper that included wiretapping and email hacking. But, the public’s limit of tolerance was reached when revelations that those methods not only included the hacking of the cell phones of celebrities, but cell phones of terrorist bombing victims, and, finally, the cell phone belonging to a missing schoolgirl, later found murdered.
Words matter, but timing is everything. At a time when Rupert Murdoch was trying to strike a multibillion-dollar deal to takeover the pay-TV company BSkyB, the scandal sent the media-hoarding man into full-tilt damage control. He flew to London where he announced that Sunday’s would be the 168-year-old publication’s final edition, sending some 200 News of the World employees (save Ms. Brooks) into the uncertain world of unemployment come Monday.
Rebekah Brooks may have felt the heat of her soon-to-be-sacked staff. A source told The Daily Mail that she sent two “very senior” editors from another Murdoch-owned, British newspaper “to go through every line on every page with a finetooth comb.” It seems the fine-tooth comb had some missing teeth.
And so, the ghosts of the shuttered tabloid would not rest. They put out the final edition, like good employees, then awaited the uproarious hoots from Sunday morning word geeks.
By the time Mr. Murdoch and Ms. Brooks emerged from his London residence Sunday, freshly-baked headlines were blazing across the internet and around the globe:
“News of the World staff let off steam with cryptic crossword insults” (The Daily Mirror)
On page 47 of its final edition, News of the World’s crossword puzzle appeared, grinning like a Cheshire cat. The seemingly innocent, but aptly titled, “Cryptic Crossword” used clues Across and Down in a mocking touche to its chief, Rebekah Brooks, such clues as “criminal enterprise, “Brook,” “stink,” “stench,” “tart,” and “catastrophe.”
How the newly-out-of-work staff would deal with their immediate future, clue#8 suggested, “We’re off to get a jug”
In any other newspaper, on any other day, such a shameful use of the Queen’s English might have come off as mean and distasteful. But, for the staff and for word geeks like me, it read like poetic justice.