Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers did not invent Schadenfreude—and in fact, the word is too pinched to describe the kinds of emotions inspired by a story told on the front page of the New York Post for weeks, which can be a thrilling, terrifying, revolting circus of ambition and hubris and swooping reputations told to a soundtrack of M.C. Col Allan’s crackling rhymes and ever-changing flow, at the end of which people crash face-first and no mercy is shown. We applaud, and then feel bad about ourselves for enjoying it—and of course, needing someone to blame for our coarse appetites, we blame the Murdochs. It’s a perfect system, as enduring a part of the city’s infrastructure as the Brooklyn Bridge, and it doesn’t come cheap. The Post is said to lose some tens of millions a year.
And then the British hacking story exploded, which was an even greater gift—the Murdochs, our favorite villains, get their comeuppance. It was a wonderful story, which would have provided a couple of months’ worth of Andrea Peyser’s cluck-clucking and inspired Allan to great heights of wordplay, if the Murdochs didn’t sign their paychecks. It was delicious, if strange and a bit unsettling, to see Hugh Grant (HUGH DIRTY DOG! crowed the Post after his assignation with Divine Brown) piling on Rupert and his beleaguered children, like that nature video where the wildebeests rout the pride of lions. And when a man aimed the pie at a sleepy-looking Rupert and his wife, Wendi, leaped up in her slim dark polka-dotted skirt and pink jacket and gave the perp a fierce open-handed smack, the story went beyond Schadenfreude to that more transcendent tabloid realm. Mrs. Murdoch’s leap toward tabloid immortality must have been hard for Allan and his crew to resist. It was a beautiful moment—but imagine what the New York Post could have done with it.