Will the scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s British media holdings spread to the U.S. and, in particular, Fox News?
At the start of May, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, wrote to Lord Justice Leveson, who has been heading a British judicial investigation into media ethics in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that broke out last summer following the revelation that reporters from News of the World had hacked into the voice mail of murdered the 13-year-old Milly Dowler, prior to her body being found. Rockefeller is inquiring if, in the course of his investigations, Lord Leveson has uncovered any evidence suggesting that “unethical and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved US citizens.” More from the senator’s letter:
“Evidence that is already in the public record clearly shows that for many years, News International had a widespread, institutional disregard for these laws.”
“I would be very concerned if evidence emerged suggesting that News Corporation officials in New York were also aware of these illegal payments and did not act to stop them.”
The catalyst for Rockefeller’s letter was the final report from British parliament’s culture, media and sport select committee, which stated that Murdoch was “not fit” to run a major international media company.
As the Guardian notes, Rockefeller’s letter marks the first time that a member of the U.S. Senate has taken a more focused interest in the hacking scandal. The Senate could hold public hearings about the hacking scandal and subpoena witnesses and documents from News Corp.
There is yet no discussion of such but much is at stake. The commerce committee oversees the Federal Communications Commission, which has the final say about issuing broadcast licenses including the 27 issued to what the Guardian calls the “jewel in Murdoch’s crown, Fox News.
News Corp. also faces a possible inquiry related to the charges of corruption levied at the company in the U.K. On the same day as Rockefeller’s letter was sent, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg called for a “robust inquiry” about whether New York-based News Corp. could be charged under anti-bribery and corruption laws, in the wake of reports about voice-mail and email hacking and also of corruption, including bribes to police. News Corp. could be charged under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for American citizens and companies to pay bribes to government officials abroad.
Indeed, two weeks ago, lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented a number of hacking victims in the U.K. including the family of Milly Dowler, started investigations into four allegations of phone hacking that had occurred in the U.S. Lewis has said that there are “so many American aspects” to the hacking scandal, including potential American victims of hacking and the possibility that News Corp. executives have withheld “material information” from shareholders and potential investors.
Media Empire Endures But Murdoch More and More Isolated
Writing in the Associated Press, Raphael Satter describes how what he calls not the hacking scandal, but the Murdoch scandal, is following a “classic script” for the rise and fall of a media baron:
“Scrappy outsider turns modest newspaper business into international media conglomerate. Ambition turns to hubris. Mogul dramatically falls from grace.”
Murdoch’s star has surely been tarnished — blackened — in the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who made a special trip to Murdoch’s yacht in 2008 to “receive his blessing” said last week that “we all did too much cozying up to Rupert Murdoch.” Just on Tuesday, the Guardian reported that Cameron texted Rebekah Brooks to “keep her head up” in the week before she resigned as CEO of News International and prior to what has turned out to be the first of two arrests for her.
Murdoch still possesses the vast share of his media holdings, and is the head of a “fabulously successful media company.” News Corp.’s share price has remained high despite months of reports about the scandal and the company just reported a big gain in its quarterly profits on Wednesday: For the three months up to March, the company’s net profit rose to $1 billion, as compared to $682 million in the same period last year. In the U.S., the Fox News network, whose decidedly unfair and unbalanced version of the news is what New York Times columnist Bill Keller calls Murdoch’s ”most toxic legacy,” continues to attract legions of viewers while annoying and outraging many of us.
Increasingly isolated in Britain, and certainly despised in the U.S., Murdoch has, writes Satter, become like a figure in the closing scene of Citizen Kane, “successful, wealthy, but unloved.”
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