Will the Democrats go after Murdoch?
By Nicholas Wapshott
The opinions expressed are his own.
“Rupert Murdoch wanted to become an American citizen,” Barbara Boxer, a leading member of the Senate Commerce Committee, told the BBC last week. “He needs to obey American law.” She cited the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which “he cannot … bribe officials anywhere in the world,” and the Wiretaps Act, that would snare the News Corp employees who, it has been suggested, hacked victims of the September 11 attacks on America.
Senator Boxer listed actions the U.S. could take if it deemed News Corp guilty, among them “the FCC [’s] ability to take away the [broadcasting] license from corporations who break the law.” Last week she and Senator Jay Rockefeller prompted an FBI probe into criminality by News Corp employees and this week urged the “special committee” that is charged with overseeing Dow Jones to discover whether former News International were implicated in illegality. They appear to have in their sights Les Hinton, the Dow Jones CEO who resigned last week after failing to properly investigate hacking at News of the World, and current Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson, who gave the top policeman who called off the hacking investigation regular employment at The Times of London.
Senators Boxer and Rockefeller are not alone. Other Democrats looking for News Corp scalps include Senator Frank Lautenberg, who called on the Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission to do their worst, saying that “current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation,” and Anna Eshoo of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, who demanded a full exposé of “this burgeoning scandal at News Corporation.” Dick Durbin, the Democrats’ number two in the Senate, threatened Murdoch with congressional hearings.
It seems that nothing would please Democratic leaders so much as to call to account the company that causes them so much daily grief in the form of Fox News, the besmircher of liberals and their motives, the champion of the Tea Party, and the inevitable cheerleader for whomever the Republicans choose to challenge President Obama. As the stock in trade of Fox News is derision, dismissal, disinformation, and humiliation of all things progressive and Democratic, there is little, you might think, the Dems stand to lose. So, how far are they prepared to go to embarrass the owners of Fox News?
If the British skulduggery does not lead to a smoking gun here, there is no shortage of News Corp targets in America to scrutinize, starting with the free-wheeling newsroom culture at the New York Post, whose key Australian and British executives included until 2007 Colin Myler, the final editor of the shuttered News of the World, and the strange case of President Clinton’s friend Ron Burkle, who alleged that a reporter on the Post’s gossip page, Page Six, tried to extort him: $100,000 down and $10,000 a month to keep him out of the paper. There is also the near-forgotten New York Times scoop last February that Roger Ailes, the boss of Fox News, advised the former HarperCollins publisher Judith Regan to lie to investigators in 2004 about her affair with New York police chief Bernard Kerik.
Timing is the key to what the Democrats can achieve. The judicial inquiry in Britain is expected to take at least twelve months, and the police investigation far longer, though there may be criminal charges dribbling out month by month. If the FBI want to show they are more efficient than the Metropolitan Police, there may be something to report earlier. If the Democrats wanted to press their advantage, they could jump on the news and call Rupert and James Murdoch before a Congressional committee right away. If they wait until evidence is turned up from the mountain of emails stored by Scotland Yard in six as yet unsorted black trash bags, we might expect hearings in the early fall of 2012 – just in time for the November general election campaign. Such tactics may be unnecessary. Even Ailes may feel that his sponsorship of the Tea Party has doomed any and all Republican candidates, as independent voters recoil from the doomsday antics of the movement. But the Democrats cannot afford to take the risk; the president will be no shoo-in.
The widespread anger among the Brits stems from a belief that they have in the last three decades been subject to a protection racket by Mr. Murdoch: toe the line and keep out of my business or find your peccadilloes splashed over my front pages. The latest Democratic threats to discover to what extent a similar trick has been played here may be just that, mere threats. But they even out the odds. If Fox plays nice, all well and good. Rupert Murdoch is famously lacking in ideology when it comes to protecting his business. He has backed Labour leaders when it suited him, Tony Blair in Britain and Keating in Britain and Gough Whitlam in Australia, and he may well feel it expedient to direct his editors to back President Obama’s re-election next year. But if Fox stays true to form and continues to terrorize the Democratic hen coop, the old man will surely get a gruesome grilling in Washington, DC.
|PHOTO: People hold signs denouncing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp during a demonstration in New York July 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson|