Following a weekend when former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was arrested and questioned for 9 hours by British police, and when the chief of Scotland Yard, Sir. Paul Stephenson, resigned, US legislators are divided about whether to conduct a congressional investigation into any possible wrongdoing in Rupert Murdoch’s American news organizations. On Meet the Press on Sunday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would like to see an investigation, while Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) countered that “We need to let law enforcement work here… We need to handle our own business for a change,” as reported in Politico.
Sen. DeMint might want to keep in mind just how extensive Murdoch’s News Corp.’s holdings are. GOOD magazine has put together a “heavily abridged” list:
TV: Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox News Channel, Fox Kids Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Classics, Fox Sports Net, FX, the National Geographic Channel, The Golf Channel, TV Guide Channel
Radio: Fox Sports Radio Network
Books: HarperCollins (which publishes JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lemony Snicket, JG Ballard, and Neil Gaiman)
Magazines: TV Guide, The Weekly Standard, Maximum Golf, Barron’s Magazine
Newspapers: The New York Post, Wall Street Journal, The Times (UK), The Sun (UK), The Australian (AU), The Herald Sun (AU), The Advertiser (AU)
Websites: Foxsports.com, Hulu (part ownership), Scout.com, The Daily
Film studios: 20th Century Fox (Avatar, The Simpsons, Star Wars, X-Men, Die Hard, Night at the Museum), Fox Searchlight (Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Little Miss Sunshine)
Sports (part ownership): Los Angeles Lakers, Colorado Rockies, Australia and New Zealand’s National Rugby League
Unless you are the rare individual like my son who, by his own preference, watches zero TV, doesn’t care for movies and is not a reader (aside from the basic sight words he works on at school), you will find yourself hard-pressed not to be a user of some aspect of Murdoch’s media empire. Murdoch’s News Corp. could even have access to New York City students’ personal data: In the wake of the hacking scandal, the state education department is being urged to reconsider a $27 million no-bid contract it awarded to a Murdoch affiliate, Wireless Generation, to track students’ ethnicity, test scores, home addresses and other sensitive data, says the New York Daily News.
Not that many of us get an actual paper newspaper anymore, but most of us regularly find ourselves in the aisles of the supermarket. Murdoch’s reach extends to in-store and newspaper ads — those coupon machines and shopping cart ads that clutter every surface in your Stop ‘n’ Shop, Safeway, Schnuck’s, Cub Foods, etc., those circulars inside the Star-Ledger my late mother-in-law poured over, five newspapers (including that other Murdoch holding, the WSJ). The New York Times recounts how News Corp.’s in-store and newspaper ad insert marketing business, News America Marketing, “paid out about $655 million to make embarrassing charges of corporate espionage and anticompetitive behavior go away.”
There were also charges of hacking into the computer-password-protected system of a New Jersey company, Floorgraphics, in 2009. According to the complaint, the security breach was traced to an IP address belonging to News America after which Floorgraphics — whose sales were less than $1 million — lost contracts with a number of supermarket chains including Safeway on the west coast and Winn-Dixie and Piggly Wiggly in the south. News America settled with Floorgraphics for $29.5 million; some days later, News America bought its far smaller competitor. Facing further charges with other companies on allegations of anticompetitive behavior and violations of antitrust laws, News America has made far larger ($500 million in one case) payouts. On the one hand, the New York Times, says, “consumers (and journalists) don’t much care who owns the coupon machine in the snack aisle” — only to point out that the CEO of News America, Paul V. Carlucci, is now also the publisher of a tabloid on a par with the now-defunct News of the World, the New York Post.
Currently the FBI has begun an inquiry into allegations that the phones of 9/11 victims were hacked. Just today, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, who was in charge of the investigation about phone-hacking and the News of the World, announced his resignation. The Guardian, which broke and “doggedly pursued” the phone-hacking story, suggests that the “spreading contagion” affecting News Corp. in the UK may well travel across the Atlantic, if it isn’t already here:
Murdoch runs his media empire in the US as an unvarnished political operation. Fox News Channel, run by career Republican operative Roger Ailes, is home to the most consistently vitriolic critics of Barack Obama. Leaked memos and emails from Fox vice-president of News, John Moody, and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon allegedly offer evidence of top-down directives to control the message throughout the news day, from linking Obama to Marxism and socialism, to denigrating a public option in the US healthcare debate, to promoting scepticism about climate change.
In just a few days, the phone-hacking scandal is turning into a political crisis in the UK with Prime Minister David Cameron delaying a recess for the House of Commons to debate the developments in the phone-hacking scandal. But the widening circle of scandal in the media, law enforcement and even in UK politics should make us all take a moment to think who’s the ultimate source behind the news we’re bombarded with on the Internet, TV, smartphones, even on newsstands — and who’s offering us enticements to buy that extra box of Ritz crackers with a conveniently placed in-store coupon.
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