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.