Will Further Revelations from the Murdoch Scandal Lead to Justice Dept. Investigations?
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The media scandal that's snared Rupert Murdoch and other News Corporation executives in Great Britain has crossed the Atlantic, and could cause more homegrown trouble for the U.S.-based media company.
In the past 48 hours, Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller,Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendezhave called for an investigation of News Corp., saying that the behavior of Murdoch's executives and staff in England raises serious questions about the legality of the conduct of the company under U.S. law.
And the calls haven't been exclusively partisan. On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Peter King said the allegations of News Corp phone hacking were " disgraceful" and warranted an FBI investigation. Rep. Mary Bono Mack intends to discuss the scandal at a House hearing today on Internet privacy, a staffer said in an interview on Wednesday.
Already a range of groups including Free Press, Public Campaign, ThinkProgress, CREDO Action and Media Matters for America has collected signatures from 100,000 Americans demanding an investigation. ColorofChange.org is organizing a sizable protest to occur outside Murdoch's Manhattan townhouse on Thursday.
It's clear from reports in the media that more allegations are going to surface, and that they'll not be limited to crimes committed in the United Kingdom.
Reporters at the Murdoch-owned news properties allegedly hacked the phone messages of more than 4,000 people, including the voicemail of a 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, which set off a furious public backlash in Britain. But News of the World journalists were based in the United States during the time the paper allegedly hacked into people's phone records.
We already know that some reportedly tried to pay a New York City police officer to hack into the phone messages of the American families and victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
We also know that News Corp., as an American company, is accountable to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which states that U.S. companies can be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad. (Part of the investigation unfolding in the UK involves $160,000 in bribes allegedly paid to police by Murdoch executives to stifle an investigation of the phone hacking).
On Tuesday, former New York State Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrote that the Justice Department has been very actively prosecuting FCPA violations in recent years. "The News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder," Spitzer wrote. "If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice."
Murdoch has amassed a worldwide media empire, which in America includes Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, and hundreds of local broadcast stations and cable channels.
For too long, Murdoch has leveraged his enormous media power to get what he wants from leaders in Washington and London, and to insulate himself and his company from official scrutiny.
This is exactly the problem that media reformers have been warning about for years. When one company amasses too much control over a nation's public discourse, democracy suffers.
It seems clear now that Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. colleagues believed that their tremendous media power placed them above the law. But fortunes are turning, and Rupert Murdoch must now answer for all that has happened under his watch. If he or his executives broke the law, they need to be held accountable in the United States.
Timothy Karr is the author of MediaCitizen, a weblog about the future of America's media. He is the campaign director of Free Press. From September 2003 through February 2005, Karr was executive director of MediaChannel.org and Media for Democracy.