Rupert Murdoch's now infamous News of the World (NoTW) may mostly be remembered for phone-hacking a murdered schoolgirl, but the late British tabloid had another memorable trait — an incredible thirst for scoops.
Now it seems that NoTW's successor, The Sun on Sunday, is displaying that same incredible thirst for scoops, The Guardian's Glenn Greenslade writes. Amazingly, The Sun is rumored to have spent as much as £150,000 ($230,000) on an elaborate sting involving private jets and Bollywood stars to catch a b-list pop star in a cocaine plot.
The Sun's big scoop was published on the 4th of June. In it, the paper claimed to have caught 24-year-old pop star Tulisa Contostavlos, a former member of N-Dubz and a judge on the talent show X Factor, arranging a £800 ($1200) cocaine deal.
Tulisa allegedly told an undercover reporter from the newspaper that she could get half an ounce of the drug from a friend. “Whatever you want, he’s got it," she is reported to have said.
It was an extremely damaging article for Tulisa, who has already had the misfortune of having a sex tape leak. Following the Sun report, the singer was arrested on suspicion of supplying drugs, released on bail, and lost her position on X Factor.
But for Murdoch's British tabloid, it was an incredible scoop.
Perhaps it was no surprise that the man behind it was a notorious former NoTW employee, Mazher Mahmood, according to Greenslade. Mahmood, a well-known undercover reporter in the U.K, is best known for his "fake sheikh" persona, whereby he poses as a wealthy sheikh to get sources to drop their guard.
So how did he manage to gain the trust of Tulisa?
A clue lies in a story published by rival newspaper The Sunday People, which details how Tulisa was taken in by a hoax involving a Bollywood film production. According to the People, fake film executives promised Tulisa £8 million ($12.5 million) for playing a British girl who moves from London to India. Tulisa was flown around the world during two months of "negotiations," visiting Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where she met the so-called stars of the film in a five-star hotel's penthouse, the People reported.
While the People did not report that the Sun was behind the plot, the Guardian's Greenslade wrote that he has heard otherwise.
"I understand the People know exactly who was responsible," he wrote in his media column June 12, "and have worked out the possible cost of their rival's exercise as being somewhere close to £150,000 ($230,000)."
Many people balked at Gawker's plan to spend $200,000 on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's alleged "crack" video, which at least had some kind of public interest angle.
If this story is true, it's pretty remarkable — the effort and expense involved to ensnare a 24-year-old pop singer in a cocaine scandal seems completely over the top.
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