There are plenty of examples of reporters going to extreme lengths to satisfy exacting news desks without quite veering into obvious criminality. There was the tabloid freelancer who hid in a church organ for several days, defecating in a plastic bag, to get pictures of Madonna’s baby’s christening; there was the time Rebekah Brooks, then a lowly reporter, disguised herself as a cleaner to infiltrate the newsroom of a sister publication and nab a copy of their scoop.
But the great tapestry of tabloid infamy has always been viewed as an entertaining appendage to public life, mischievous rather than malicious. The UK press looks across the Atlantic and—with, to my British sensibility, some justification—views a moribund print culture that spends more time pontificating about morals than getting stories and making them interesting to readers. As the former Times editor and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins once put it, “I was trained as a reptile lurking in the gutter whose sole job was ‘to get the bloody story.’” Not for nothing does the trophy for the country’s most prestigious investigative journalism award, the Bevins Prize, show a determined rat nosing up a drainpipe.