Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Time to investigate Murdoch USA
Senator Frank Lautenberg calls for hearings on Murdoch:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) called on Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Mary Schapiro to investigate whether U.S.-based News Corp violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Allegations have arisen that reporters employed by News Corp's News of the World newspaper bribed law enforcement officials, which may be a violation of the FCPA.Eliot Spitzer thinks it's possible:
"The limited information already reported in this case raises serious questions about the legality of the conduct of News Corporation and its subsidiaries under the FCPA," Lautenberg wrote. "Further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation. Accordingly, I am requesting that DOJ and the SEC examine these circumstances and determine whether U.S. laws have been violated."
So how does all this concern Americans? First, it is hard to believe that the misbehavior in Murdoch's media empire stopped at the water's edge. Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans—Pacific as well as Atlantic—it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain.
Much more importantly, the facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: 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. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment. While one must always be cautious in seeking government investigation of the media for the obvious First Amendment concerns, this is not actually an investigation of the media, but an investigation of criminal acts undertaken by those masquerading as members of the media.
I think the chances that this doesn't hit the US are vanishingly small. Especially when you think about events like this:
Ailes called Zucker on his cellphone last summer, clearly agitated over a slam against him by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. According to sources familiar with the conversation, Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn't stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O'Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.O'Reilly gave out GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt's address on the air, reportedly at Ailes' direction. And this happened too:
On May 19, their Page 6 gossip monger, Richard Johnson, asked if Olbermann was “on the verge of yet another professional meltdown?” Today the same Ailes apple polisher flatly asserts that Olbermann has not paid his taxes. Johnson’s source is the utterly disreputable attack dog site, OlbermannWatch. This allegedly factual assertion is made despite the fact that it is contradicted a few lines down in the very same paragraph.And then there's this:
A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he’d invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes’s calls to run.
Those are just three small items that came to mind as I sit here.
There is a ton of stuff that we already know about Fox News' intrusion into the political process and blackmailing rivals and political foes. That's what's at the heart of the UK scandals as much as the criminal hacking. There's very little reason to believe that an ethos that so closely tracks in the one way isn't likely to have tracked in the other.
Update: An excerpt of Howard Kurtz's new article in The Daily Beast:
“There were people you were not supposed to mess with,” says the former reporter for the gossipy Page Six, if they were “friends” of executives at the Post or its parent company, News Corp. At the same time, “word would come down through your editor, ‘This is someone we should get, should go after.’ The people high up had people they just didn’t like.”
“There was a kind of thuggishness,” says Jared Paul Stern, a former Page Six contributor at the center of the controversy. He says Murdoch was on the phone with Post Editor in Chief Col Allan “all the time. He was down in the newsroom. I can’t imagine anything of that scale could go on and him not know about it.” Allan and a Post spokesman have not responded to requests for comment.
Update II: h/t to JS @tinyrevolution for reminding me of this one from 2009:
Gossip, for Murdoch, is partly business intelligence, but Murdoch also likes to know who is sleeping with whom. He especially likes to know what liberals are sleeping around (but he will take conservatives, too). It is a prurient interest, but it is also leverage. He refers to having pictures and reports and files—though this may be as much what he imagines a powerful person like himself should have, whereas all he really has is some speculation from sycophantic reporters feeding him what he wants to hear.
The Guardian’s report about the revelations of massive illegal tapping of government officials by private investigators in the employ of his tabloid newspapers in London has as much to do, I believe, with currying favor with Murdoch as it does with selling newspapers (no less uncovering the truth).
Did Murdoch know his daily gossip fix came from illegal wiretaps?
Murdoch calls Rebekah Wade, the former editor of News of the World and of the Sun and a family favorite, at least twice a week, sometimes daily. He checks in with the editor of the weekly News of the World before every issue. He wants to know what his editors know—at the same time they are careful not to tell him what he doesn’t want to know (he wouldn’t listen anyway).
When the New York Post’s Page Six editor, Richard Johnson (who regularly supplies the boss with unpublished tidbits), admitted taking bribes from sources and subjects, Murdoch was furious. But a good publisher, Murdoch believes, must tolerate the bad behavior in a newsroom—he didn’t fire Johnson—understanding that it is precisely such bad behavior that gets the story and provides the gossip that the boss lives for (and that sells the papers).
digby 7/13/2011 12:00:00 PM