In August 2005, the News of the World published a seemingly innocuous item of gossip. “Royal action man Prince William” had been left “crocked by a 10-year-old during football training”. The fact that this private information had been gleaned from a voicemail helped raise the first suspicions over the practice of phone hacking. Seven years later, as his news empire faced the dual threats of statutory regulation and competition with unfettered online media, a defiant Rupert Murdoch launched a return salvo.
He reportedly ordered The Sun to splash a far more eye-catching story involving another prince: “Say to Leveson, we are doing it for press freedom.” The next day’s front page was filled with a photo exclusive of William’s younger brother partying in Las Vegas under the headline: “Heir it is! Pic of naked Harry you’ve already seen on the internet”. (The clearly drunk, then third-in-line to the throne, was at least “covering his crown jewels with his hands”.) The Sun even parodied the traditionally sycophantic coverage of royal events and tours by stamping “Souvenir Printed Edition” across its masthead.
This mutually dependent love-hate relationship between the press and the palace, each needing the other for their own popularity, was nothing new. The connection between the houses of Murdoch and Windsor had begun 90 years previously. The players then had been Rupert’s father Keith and the princes’ party-loving great-great-uncle.
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