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After more than a century-and-a-half in print, News of the World is shutting down -- amid a scandal exposed, not by a journalist or police detective, but by actor Hugh Grant. In a fascinating interview with the BBC, Grant explains how his one-man sting operation dealt a fatal blow to the hugely popular tabloid.
On Thursday, media mogul Rupert Murdoch issued the announcement that he would no longer be publishing News of the World, after Scotland Yard confirmed that its reporters were involved in illegal phone-hacking. Grant stumbled upon this information months ago, when his car broke down and an ex-NotW editor (now a pub owner) offered to give him a lift. During their conversation, the former journalist bragged that the paper was engaged in extensive phone-hacking of celebrities, including Grant himself.
A few months later, Grant decided to visit the man's pub with a hidden tape recorder, attempting to turn the tables on him. (Just a boy, standing in front of an ex-reporter, asking him to spill his guts.) In April, Grant published the transcript of their conversation, which includes the claim that News of the World was engaged in bribery with police officers and prominent politicians. The conversation also included the revelation that the paper wasn't just hacking the phones of celebrities -- they were hacking the phones of ordinary people in the news.
On July 4, The Guardian reported that News of the World hacked the phone of 13-year-old kidnapping victim Milly Dowler in 2002, prior to the discovery that she had been murdered (meaning the reporters interfered irrevocably with the police investigation). It was also revealed that they hacked the phones of terrorist attack victims, war veterans and the families of deceased soldiers. The scandal horrified U.K. readers, and Murdoch made the extreme decision to cut his losses and shutter the paper for good.
So is Hugh Grant celebrating his victory? He probably would be -- if he wasn't still so angry. In the BBC clip, Grant rails at the former News of the World editor for his immoral tactics.
"You didn't care who got hurt so long as you were able to sell your newspaper," fumes Grant. "You're not journalists, you have no interest in journalism, it's just money, money, money."
And now that News of the World has been shut down, those faux-journalists may actually have to make an honest living for the first time. Hugh Grant for prime minister? Hey, he sure made a great one in Love Actually.