The News of the World: 3 sacred readings

1. The demise as ancient tragedy

The staff of the News of the World have left their jobs heroically – in the strict sense. Like Iphigenia, sacrificed by Agamemnon as a pawn in a bigger battle, they are themselves innocent, but have accepted their fate nobly. It is tragic: bad things happen to good people, but they win dignity by accepting their suffering.

Similarly, today’s newspaper, the last, has the air of being beyond good and evil, in spite of the past malefactions that have led to its demise. To read it is to experience the catharsis of a god’s-eye view of history. The mood is melancholic as for a moment, before outrage at phone hacking returns, good and evil are viewed alongside one another, without a rush to judgment.

2. The demise as archetypal shadow

The newspaper played judge to the world, in its exposés and scoops. But the judge is an archetypal role, to be respected. It demands a careful balance of justice alongside compassion. The exercise of this power must be seen to be executed with fairness and in a way that honours the higher good, the universal laws of natural justice.

This did not happen as the newspaper was consumed by its shadow, which is tyrannical and places itself above the law. It no longer serves justice but its own petty agendas. The values of harmony and the greater good are rubbished and thwarted. The shadow mocks the good judge in a parody of justice.

However, the shadow is itself subject to the archetype. It reigns for a period, but is itself being judged. Justice will in time find it wanting. And so, the newspaper was brought low.

3. The demise as offending the sacred

(Hat tip: Gordon Lynch.) The media plays an unexpected role in a secular age. It is a guardian of matters sacred. Hence, it commemorates soldiers killed in war; it rages at the foulest crimes against children; it cries for justice to the heavens when individuals are killed through terror.

But the media serves the sacred and, when it forgets that, will offend it too. As Gordon explains, the Sun offended the deaths of those killed at Hillsborough. The BBC offended charitable concern for the people of Gaza. The people then demand recompense to restore the sacred to its place in public life. Sacrilege demands atonement.

The recompense being demanded of the News of the World is so large because its offence against the sacred is so large. Restitution requires a cleansing for fear that ‘the moral stain will creep.’ Further sacrifices are inevitable in order to stem the pollution.