Paul Greenberg

Consider this an obituary for a newspaper. The suddenly late News of the World succumbed at 168 this month to a fatal case of shame aggravated by financial calculation. Its chronic hubris became acute under its latest owner, who has not been free of that malady himself.

The end came as a shock. Who knew The News of the World was even capable of shame? And now it's died of it. Its insatiable appetite for scandal finally did it in. For once its zeal got in the way of its owner's ambitions instead of furthering them. And it had to be put it out of its misery. Its last great scandal, as it turned out, was its own.

The saddest thing about NoW's abrupt passing is that it won't be around to cover it, complete with the required pictures of the dramatis personae scurrying out of their lairs with faces hidden from prying paparazzi.

Nothing could save The News of the World as evidence began to pile up of outrages low even by its famously low standards. Like hacking into the phone of an abducted schoolgirl to eavesdrop on increasingly desperate messages from family and friends. And listening in on the phone calls of relatives of British soldiers killed in action in Iraq. Spying on royalty may be almost an English tradition by now, but Tommies -- and their families -- used to be off-limits.

Oh, yes, a history of bribing police officers was also mentioned in dispatches. As high-level resignation follows high-level resignation, Scotland Yard begins to look more like the Keystone Kops.

At least two parliamentary investigations have begun, and neither will be pretty. This can of worms has just been opened, and there's no telling what other scandals will slither out.

The good news is that there are still lines even a British tabloid may not cross with impunity. The outcry against NoW's sleazy ways has been deafening. And widespread. It covers the spectrum of British opinion from toff to prole. Maybe there'll always be an England after all. And an English sense of decency.

Ordinarily the fall of another storied newspaper is an occasion for mourning, but the mercy killing of this sick, sick operation raises hopes. Despite all one has heard about the deterioration of British manners, old John Bull is still capable of recognizing behavior up with which he will not put.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.