Hollywood gloats, silently, over News Corp scandal

Tue Jul 12, 2011 5:39pm EDT

* Hollywood largely silent on British newspaper scandal

* British celebs greet woes at Murdoch empire with glee

LOS ANGELES, July 12 (Reuters) - British actors Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan may be publicly cheering the woes of Rupert Murdoch's media empire in a newspaper hacking scandal, but in Hollywood any gloating is largely taking place behind closed doors.

Since few American stars appear to have been targeted by the hacking into private phones at the shuttered British tabloid News of the World, the U.S. entertainment industry is watching from afar -- more spectator, than participant.

"I think the reaction (in Hollywood) has been very low key. Most people are watching the news unfold in London and wondering what will be the ripple effect on the various News Corp (NWSA.O) divisions here. The main focus is not the entertainment properties, but the news properties," said Sharon Waxman, editor in chief of industry website The Wrap.

In Los Angeles, home to Murdoch's Fox Television network and 20th Century Fox film studio, the focus is more on Thursday's nominations for the 2011 Emmys -- the highest honors in the TV industry -- and movie box offices, in particular this week's release of Warner Bros' newest "Harry Potter" movie.

"I think people are enjoying watching this guy roast but I don't think it's having any material impact. I think it is a case of schadenfreude," one senior executive at a rival Hollywood studio, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.

In Britain, Grant and Coogan -- both repeated targets of the tabloid press -- greeted the troubles at the News of the World with glee.

"The News of the World is ... a misogynistic, xenophobic, single parent-hating, asylum seeker-hating newspaper and it's gone to the wall and I'm delighted," comic actor Coogan said on a BBC chat show last week.

"A WATERSHED MOMENT"

Grant, star of "Four Weddings and A Funeral", called the closure of the tabloid on Sunday a "watershed moment when, finally, the public starts to see ... just how low and how disgusting this particular newspaper's methods were."

Bryce Nelson, professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, attributed the reluctance to speak out in Hollywood to the power of Fox "in movies and television and in running tabloids that can get sensational material on people in the entertainment fields."

Said another industry source; "Murdoch touches everybody in some way, so nobody is standing up" to speak publicly.

Among those brave enough to put their heads above the parapet is comedian Jon Stewart, whose satirical TV program "The Daily Show" has waged a long war of words with conservative leaning Fox News cable television.

In a swift recap on Monday of allegations that News of the World employees hacked the voicemail of an abducted British teenager, Stewart commented: "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit."

And in what was dubbed a "schadenfreudegasm," the "Daily Show" wryly hailed Grant -- remembered for his humiliating 1995 arrest with a Hollywood prostitute -- as one of the heroes of the tabloid's downfall.

On a more serious note, former Washington Post correspondent Carl Bernstein asked whether Murdoch was facing his own Watergate.

"The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous criminal acts," Bernstein wrote in an article for Newsweek. (Reporting by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles and Mike Collett-White in London)

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