When it was discovered in a high-profile investigation that reporters had been routinely hacking into voicemail messages of key people for years, Murdoch was forced to shut down the 168-year-old, high-circulation paper in 2011. According to investigators, the voicemail hacking, and in some cases, the deletion of messages, occurred with the complicity of News supervisors and London’s Metropolitan Police, who investigators claimed were bribed into silence. An investigative report by Nick Davies of The Guardian confirmed not only the widespread phone hacking stemming from the top executives at News of the World but also the complicity of London’s Metropolitan Police in the hacking and cover-up.
Another high-profile case, known as Operation Hackerazzi, involved Christopher Chaney, dubbed the Hollywood Hacker, who hacked into the online accounts and cell phones of at least 50 female celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, and Christina Aguilera. Several victims, including Johansson, testified via video about how the hacking of their private accounts devastated their lives. Rather than looking the other direction, the courts took Chaney’s actions very seriously, convicting him of nine felonies related to computer hacking and sentencing him to 10 years in prison.
Going Viral In a 2016 civil trial, information about how Michael Barrett illegally filmed Erin Andrews, an American sports caster and television personality, in her hotel room at the Radisson Airport in Nashville. Nude films of Andrews were posted online and
quickly went viral. Barrett was charged with interstate stalking and sentenced to two years, nine months behind bars. Andrews filed suit against Barrett, as well as the Radisson Hotels and Marriott International, for invasion of privacy and negligence in relation to the secret videotaping of her naked, and in March of 2016, Andrews was awarded an amount of $55 million.
In each of these cases, the consequences for illegal celebrity spying, stalking, and hacking signaled the end of the era that tolerated illegal tactics in celebrity journalism. But here is an important question: Would tabloid television shows, paparazzi, stalkers, and hackers exist without our star-hungry society? Probably yes, as it’s a sign of the American voyeuristic culture and the desire of people to be preoccupied with other people’s trivia as an escape from their own lives.
In fact, American’s insatiable appetite for entertainment news not only surpasses the appetite of hard news, Americans in general consume far more entertainment news than other countries do. Consider the different content and feature stories in the popular magazines, such as Time. A review of the magazine covers for the U.S. version compared to other countries reveals how repeatedly the U.S. edition focused on soft news, while the rest of the world got the hard news version. Thus, while a recent Pew Research Center poll found that most respondents felt that coverage of celebrity news was too much, other research has shown that Americans have a voracious appetite for entertainment news, particularly women are large consumers of soft news with stories focusing on lifestyle, entertainment, and celebrities.
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