Before the debt-ceiling and credit rating debacle there was real momentum behind the Murdoch scandal and the need to investigate the Murdochization of our media and politics in the United States. If we are to have an independent, fearless, incorruptible media – and a regulatory and legal system able to stand strong against media monopolies – then we need to regain and sustain that momentum, keeping the spotlight on Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation, and a history of shady dealings.
Despite the fact that News Corp. is a Delaware-registered corporation, the FCC has tried to pretend that Rupert Murdoch is just a problem for the Brits to contend with. But in consolidating his US media holdings Murdoch is famed for cutting corners and using money and power to gain regulatory favors. As early as 1995, The Nation’s Robert Sherrill wrote, “FCC Commissioners do not like to displease Murdoch. They have done a number of extraordinary favors for him in the past.” Over the past decade, as media reform groups battled to prevent FCC and Congressional moves to undermine controls on media consolidation, Murdoch and his lobbyists have been a constant, well-funded presence—pushing to rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation, and one man, accumulated extraordinary power.
This week, New York Times reporter David Carr picked up on the theme of extraordinary favors, writing of allegations in 2003 against News Corporation subsidiary, News America, by Floorgraphics—a small New Jersey–based company and a competitor. Floorgraphics accused News America CEO Paul Carlucci—now the publisher of the News Corp.-owned New York Post—of threatening to “destroy” it before someone at News America hacked into Floorgraphics’ computer network. An FBI agent who examined the evidence described it as an “excellent paper trail.”
Yet when the agent brought that evidence to the United States attorney in New Jersey “the case died a slow death.” Who was that US attorney? None other than current New Jersey Governor and Fox News darling Chris Christie.
The good news is that New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Rush Holt sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder recommending that the Justice Department once again look into the case. According to the Times, Lautenberg and others have expressed interest in Senate hearings to examine whether “a broad pattern of misconduct by the News Corporation” exists. Free Press, MoveOn, Media Matters, CREDO and Public Campaign have been leading the charge in mobilizing the grassroots to call for such hearings, and more than 180,000 people have now signed on.
“We need Murdoch under the lights and facing the cameras in Congress for this to get the attention it deserves,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press.
“It’s critical that Congress hold open and transparent hearings in order to assure the American public that the Murdochs’ considerable influence doesn’t allow them to dodge the laws of our land,” said Media Matters senior advisor and director of NewsCorpWatch, Ilyse Hogue. “The elected representatives pushing for hearings are supported by hundreds of thousands of Americans who understand an accountable media is critical to a functioning democracy.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice and FBI have launched investigations into allegations that News Corporation hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims. Attorney General Holder will meet with families of the victims on August 24 and update them on the investigation. According to the Guardian, “The agreement to hold the meeting is a sign of how seriously the inquiry is being taken.” The DOJ is also looking into whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which could be used to prosecute the company for bribing foreign officials.
“We’re pleased that the FBI and the DOJ seem to be taking the Murdoch matter seriously,” said Hogue.
Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney and Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley recently called on Congressman Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, to hold hearings examining these allegations. (Expect nothing but a “fair and balanced” response—Fox-style—from Issa.) Congressman John Conyers, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has said that the Democratic staff of the committee “will review allegations that News Corp. has engaged in serious and systemic invasions of privacy.”
News Corporation now owns and operates twenty-eight TV stations in the United States. If Murdoch or other top brass are implicated in these scandals, then license challenges could come into play. Some already are being challenged, including that of WWOR in New Jersey. The problems there began when an FCC rule change allowed a single company to own more than one television station in the same market. News Corp. scooped up both WWOR and WNYW just across the river in New York, reducing WWOR’s local news coverage, reducing staffs and consolidating newsrooms—even sharing a co-anchor. News Corp. is now being investigated for possibly lying in FCC filings about how much local coverage it actually offers and how many reporters it employs.
The FCC also reviews ownership rules every four years—News Corp. and Big Media lobbyists pushed that requirement into the law so there would be constant pressure to loosen the rules. But the review expected later this year is shaping up differently. Media reform groups will make the News Corp. scandal a centerpiece of its fight against Big Media’s endless onslaught of ownership limits and an already moribund antitrust regulatory system.
“The real scandal here is decades of collusion between Murdoch and policymakers that has done serious damage to media and politics alike,” said Aaron. “This is what happens when you give one man and one company too much media power, but as we’ve seen in England it may take further evidence of spying on victims families or even Hollywood celebrities to bring the larger and more lasting problems to light.”
What’s needed is for all relevant authorities, in the UK and the US, to enforce the law, undertake aggressive investigations of any criminal conduct, and expose the culture of collusion between politicians and Murdoch’s machine.