Earlier this week, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman posited that Fox News chief Roger Ailes stands to gain from the phone-hacking scandal enveloping the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Sherman figures that the scandal could take down Ailes’s most powerful rival, James Murdoch, Rupert’s son. And he believes that with the demise of News of the World and Murdoch withdrawing his bid to control all of BSkyB, the highly profitable Fox News will be even more indispensable to the bottom line of parent company News Corp. That’s all feasible.
But then Sherman goes out on an odd limb, writing: “Whatever Jon Stewart and fellow liberals may think of Fox News, the network's journalistic transgressions are entirely legal [my emphasis], which is something that no one can say about the News of the World.”
Really? Entirely legal? How can Sherman know? True, he wrote a fine and sometimes critical piece on Ailes for New York two months ago, and has signed a contract for a book on Fox News. But if Sherman’s truly certain that Ailes & Company are as clean as a whistle, he should hurry over to tell federal investigators that when they look into News Corp.’s US media properties, they can skip Fox News entirely.
A growing number of senators and congresspeople, including frequent Fox guest Rep. Peter King (R-NY), are calling for federal agencies to look into possible illegal activities by News Corp. in the United States; yesterday, the FBI confirmed that it has opened investigations into allegations that News Corp. hacked into phones of 9/11 victims. The nonprofit watchdog group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) is asking Congress to hold its own hearings, a la Parliament’s.
Of course, it’s possible that any and all of News Corp.’s illegal transgressions stop at water’s edge. However, employees of Rupert’s New York Post have been involved in plenty of extralegal hijinks in the past, and as I wrote Tuesday, a former Fox News executive alleges that Ailes may have broken into phone records in the ‘90s. In May, as Sherman himself writes, a lawsuit was settled out of court that has effectively buried allegations that Ailes told Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators about her ex-lover Bernie Kerik in order to protect the then-presidential candidacy of Ailes’s good friend and Kerik mentor Rudy Giuliani.
Fox News may or may not have anything to do with the burgeoning News Corp. scandals. But remember, there once was a time when “something that no one” could say was that News of the World’s journalistic transgressions weren’t also entirely legal.