Media

Will Americans Turn on Murdoch the Way the Brits Have? UPDATE: Murdoch Reverses Refusal to Testify in U.K.

In Britain, Murdoch was the biggest cheese of all, until his readers turned on him. Amid allegations of phone-hacking of 9/11 victims, with the American people do the same?

UPDATE: In the latest turn in this story (blink and you'll miss something), Rupert Murdoch, the New York Timesreports, has reversed his earlier refusal to appear, as requested, to testify with son James, also a News Corp. executive, before the British Parliament.

Rupert Murdoch probably didn't think his week could get much worse. Then, three U.S. senators called upon federal agencies to investigate the actions of his News Corporation, which owns, among a number of media entities, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., sent a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a Justice Department investigation of possible phone-hacking by News Corp outlets in the U.S., and to Mary Schapiro, chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission, asking her to investigate News Corp for possible violations of U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., sent his own letter to Holder and Schapiro requesting the same.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., asked FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct his own investigation.

These actions have given hope to News Corp critics who have long lamented the timidity of both Democrats and most of the mainstream news establishment in the face of the blatant political organizing, race-baiting, opponent-smearing and outright disinformation promulgated by Murdoch's U.S. news outlets. But given the influence of Murdoch ally David Koch on the U.S. Congress -- many of whose members the billionaire helped to elect, both through direct donations and the organizing of Americans for Prosperity, the astroturf group he founded -- Murdoch may currently enjoy even greater insulation in Congress than he once did in the British Parliament.

Then there's the sheer power of Murdoch's media entities in the U.S. Fox News is the nation's most-watched cable news channel; the Wall Street Journal is America's largest-circulation newspaper. Both are based in New York, along with Murdoch's New York Post. In fact, News Corp itself -- the global conglomerate -- is based in New York. AlterNet called the offices of both U.S. senators from New York, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand, late yesterday afternoon, requesting comment on Rockefeller's call for Justice Dept. and SEC investigations. As of press time, our calls were not returned.

Over the course of the last week, Murdoch's News Corp empire has been engulfed in a scandal that exploded when one of its British tabloids, the since-shuttered News of the World, was exposed by the Guardian as having tampered with the voicemail account of a teenage murder victim, giving her family and police false hope that she was still alive. (It was long known that the paper, seeking gossip, hacked the accounts of celebrities and staff to the royal family.)

But when it was learned that the paper also hacked the accounts of victims of the 2007 London subway bombings, and possibly victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, all hell broke loose. Lawmakers in the U.S. began to sit up and pay attention. The actions on Wednesday by Boxer, Rockefeller and Lautenberg followed similar calls for investigations by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and by ThinkProgress (published by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political arm of the liberal think tank). While ThinkProgress calls for the scrutiny of the federal government, CREW wants Congress to hold hearings.

This latest incarnation of Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandal, which now involves two other News Corp papers, the Sun and the Sunday Times, has seen News Corp stock plummet as much as 15 percent, and even a $5 billion stock buy-back did little to staunch the bleeding. Shareholders are launching lawsuits, alleging mismanagement of the company for the benefit of the Murdoch family, and there’s talk of News Corp selling off its British newspapers.

By Wednesday, Murdoch’s star had fallen so far in Britain that he was forced to abandon News Corp’s bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite television giant in which News Corp already holds a majority stake, and which, until recently, was headed up by his son James Murdoch. UPDATE: Rupert and James Murdoch, after initially are refusing to testify before Parliament, as requested by British lawmakers, have reversed course and will appear before the body next week, according to theNew York Times. Until this point, as the Nation’s D.D. Guttenplan notes, Murdoch had virtually every British politician of any stripe in his thrall, thanks to the enormous power of his press. That power, however, actually rested with the British people. Once he lost their support, the politicians were free to turn against him.

The allegations that News of the World may have hacked the voicemail accounts of 9/11 victims has the widows of two firefighters who died trying to rescue victims of the terrorist attacks calling for accountability. That was enough to move the extremely right-wing Peter King -- most recently known for claiming that Shariah law is about to be instituted in the U.S. any day now -- to ask the FBI to pursue the allegations. As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, the American people may also be so moved. If that happens, the fate of Murdoch's empire will be in their hands.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan