Elements of the British press, which should rightly be in a cowering, brand-rebuilding mode after it was disclosed that the News of the World illegally tapped the phones of public officials, royals, and even a kidnapping victim, have doubled-down in the poor-taste department.
This time, it's Prince Harry, who was taking a break from military exercises in Las Vegas. The young royal was having fun with friends—fun that apparently included stripping down naked—and his photo was snapped. Despite entreaties from the palace, The Sun opted to run a full-on, front page photo of an unclothed Prince Harry, his hands covering his private parts.
It's in bad taste, it's not news, and there is no public interest—other than prurience and voyeurism—in printing the photos. But that act is less offensive than the reasoning behind it: that it's somehow a photo banner of the concept of a free press.
The photos are already out there, the editor explained—so why not run them? People can get them easily on the Internet. That's true. People can get porn on the Internet, too. People can read crazy and inarticulate conspiracy theories, as well, since anyone with access to a computer can put the on the Net. That doesn't mean newspapers should retreat to the lowest common or uncommon denominator.
Nor is there any news value to the photos themselves. Surely, by now, people know that Prince Harry was naked in front of some friends. So what? And what's the point of actually printing the photos? Most newspapers avoid printing gruesome photos of someone who has been killed. Everyone knows the person has been killed, and the photos themselves just turn a tragic story into porn.
What's the real reason behind the printing of the picture? Profit, of course—surely today's Sun will sell well. And perhaps the press are pushing back after the phone-hacking scandal, letting people of power and celebrity know that they can still be victimized, legally as well as illegally.
But don't try to justify this by piously invoking freedom of the press. Freedom of the press doesn't justify bad judgment. Newspapers are struggling, and they won't recover by offering the worst element available for free on the Internet. They'll recover by asking people to pay for something better. And something produced by people with better news judgment.