Monday, October 03, 2005

Gutter Journalism Ain't What It Used To Be

From the book of splendor alluded to below:
Cock-a-hoop with [winning a libel case, albeit with a total award of one farthing], Norton plunged into a great booze-up. For weeks he was in a state of helpless, hymn-bawling drunkenness. Truth was without an editor and the difficulties of its staff were aggravated by Norton's practice of lurching around the office with a revolver, firing off a few chambers when the caprice seized him... When Norton was officially told of his dismissal he was too drunk to understand what it was all about. The new editor had occupied the chair for more than a week before Norton sobered up sufficiently to realise he had been sacked. He took the sentence philosophically, even admitting to [owner of Truth, more or less] Crick that it was justified, but immediately took steps to frustrate it. He was still, by the original chicanery of the organisation, registered proprietor of Truth. He directed the Post Office to divert all its correspondence to him, and [hilarity ensues]
It's virtually all like this; chapter after chapter of blackmail, bribery, physical violence, and shockingly bad editorials set against a background of three or four distinct decades-long bilious feuds between the various principals, most of whom were elected members of Parliament in addition to being part-time media moguls. If you ever, anywhere in your travels, find a copy of this book I cannot recommend it highly enough. Most of the source materials are apparently archived here, so I'm going to pay a visit as soon as is convenient to pick up some pointers.

Slightly before the book's serialization in 1958, a descendent of the Norton in that excerpt attempted to sue the publisher for a kind of retroactive libel, using a freshly-minted Act of Parliament believed to have been drafted precisely for that purpose. It didn't quite work, but the law remained on the books. I hope it's not still there. I may be wrong, but I think even in England you can't libel the dead.