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Britain’s Gift to America: The New Sleazocracy – New York Times

Our second-best-selling paper, The Daily Mail, specializes in hit jobs on public figures. Last year its front page proclaimed the High Court judges who had ruled that Brexit could be initiated only by Parliament to be “Enemies of the People,” denouncing one of them as “openly gay.”

The Sun is even more expert at brutal sensationalism. In 2014, its former deputy news editor, Ben O’Driscoll, told a court of “an enormous safe, about seven feet high,” filled with some 30 years’ worth of “eye-popping” material. The Drudge Report and Breitbart News look like amateurs and naïfs in comparison.

But it is Mr. Goldstone’s second career, as a pop publicist, that is truly emblematic of the British media’s evolution since the 1990s. It was then that celebrity journalism and a rich secondary market in P.R. took off.

Piers Morgan was the poster boy for this phenomenon. He turned The Sun’s show-business column, Bizarre, into one of the paper’s most successful franchises, visibly mixing with pop stars, sports heroes, minor royalty and fashionistas. In 1994, Mr. Murdoch made Mr. Morgan, then age 28, the editor of The News of the Worldand celebrity journalism came of age.

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Rob Goldstone/Facebook

Under Mr. Morgan’s editorship, a young Rebekah Brooks rose rapidly. Another friend, Andy Coulson, took over his role with the Bizarre column. Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson later became editors of The News of the World while Mr. Morgan moved to The Daily Mirror. During the trio’s domination of the tabloid press, newspapers would spend millions on “buy outs” from publicists, particularly “kiss-and-tell” confessions.

Like hedge funds that speculate on derivative trades, celebrity journalism is a spread bet on the futures of public figures. Max Clifford, the most famous publicist of his day (until his downfall and disgrace as a convicted sex offender), used kompromat to ruin the reputations of several politicians, while his tabloid contacts helped keep his own clients out of the papers. The public appetite for such material spawned an industry of private investigators adept at the dark arts of bugging, phone hacking and acquiring confidential records.

The phone-hacking scandal in 2011 was a comeuppance of sorts. The News of the World closed; Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson both stood trial on charges related to phone hacking. In 2014, Ms. Brooks was acquitted, and a year later she resumed her role as chief executive of Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper group. Mr. Coulson was convicted on a conspiracy charge, but not before he had served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s head of communications in Downing Street.

Mr. Morgan was by then working in the United States, thanks to another British innovation that had crossed the Atlantic: reality TV, exported in formats developed in Britain like “Big Brother,” “Survivor” and “Pop Idol.”

Mr. Morgan deftly surfed this new wave, serving as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” before taking over Larry King’s spot at CNN. And, on the set of “The Apprentice,” he met and, as he tells it, befriended Donald Trump. Until recently, Mr. Morgan’s Twitter profile featured a photo of himself with Mr. Trump. In June 2016, just as Mr. Goldstone was setting up the Russian lawyer’s meeting with the Trump campaign, Mr. Morgan was praising his friend’s special talents among those “skilfully manipulating the media to fuel their personal and professional brands.”

Forget Shakespeare and Dickens, or even the Beatles and David Bowie. Today Britain’s most important cultural export to the United States is the use of tabloid tricks and reality TV techniques for influence and profit. Rob Goldstone may look like a bit player in this story, but he is an avatar of the new power brokers in the age of politics as entertainment. Welcome to your new ruling class. Made in Britain.


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Britain’s Gift to America: The New Sleazocracy – New York Times

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