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UK paper thrived on scandal, died from scandal

From first to last, for 168 years, the News of the World prospered by selling scandal, crime and titillation to the masses.
/ Source: The Associated Press

From first to last, for 168 years, the News of the World prospered by selling scandal, crime and titillation to the masses.

It wrecked careers, ruined marriages and embarrassed the royal family over and over.

If it couldn't find a scandal, it created one — entrapping some gullible celebrity through the wiles of its famed "Fake Sheik," Mazer Mahmood.

There will be much dancing on the newspaper's grave.

Last year, the newspaper recorded Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, as she offered to sell access to her former husband, Prince Andrew.

In 2005, Mahmood got Princess Michael of Kent to ventilate some sensational opinions including her view that Princess Diana was "bitter" and "nasty."

In 2001, the Fake Sheik drew some indiscreet comments from Sophie, Duchess of Wessex, the wife of Prince Edward, and that was the end of her career in public relations.

It was the News of the World that exposed the sadomasochistic tastes of Max Mosley, but the Formula 1 boss fought back. He won 60,000 pounds ($96,000) in damages from the newspaper in 2008 for invading his privacy.

The Sheik helped orchestrate a plot in 2002 to kidnap Victoria Beckham, wife of soccer star David Beckham, and their two boys. The newspaper paid an informant who egged on the plotters; police were kept informed and arrested five members of the gang on a Saturday, a favorable moment for a Sunday newspaper.

The case fell apart in court in 2003.

The newspaper recently spent a lot of time in court, settling claims from people who claimed their phones had been hacked. Actress Sienna Miller collected 100,000 pounds ($160,000), and former Scotland football star Andy Gray got 20,000 pounds ($32,000). Publicist Max Clifford reportedly won 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) in a private settlement and former Professional Football Association chief Gordon Taylor reportedly won 700,000 pounds ($1.12 million).

Other claims are lined up for trial.

"Our motto is the truth, our practice is the fearless advocacy of the truth," proclaimed John Brown, who launched the weekly paper in 1843.

A year later, it had the highest circulation of any British weekly at 18,000 copies.

The paper flourished under editor Lacelles Carr, who built circulation from 40,000 to more than 4.4 million when he died in 1941.

Circulation peaked at 8.4 million in 1950.

Rupert Murdoch established his beachhead on Fleet Street by buying the News of the World in 1969.

The News of the World remained the biggest-selling paper in Britain until 2008. It was overtaken by Murdoch's daily tabloid, The Sun, in 2008, and the circulation now stands below 2.7 million.