by Michael Collins
July 13, 2011
The Economic Populist
There are some crimes so universally offensive that even mentioning the suspected crime has devastating effects. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) raised just such a question yesterday. In a brief press statement, the Senator said:
“The reported hacking by News Corporation newspapers against a range of individuals – including children – is offensive and a serious breach of journalistic ethics. This raises serious questions about whether the company has broken U.S. law, and I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated. I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans. If they did, the consequences will be severe.” Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, July 12
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has used voicemail hacking and other forms of privacy intrusion in the United Kingdom as far back as 2002. The goal is to get the most intimate insider information, stay ahead of the news cycle, and beat the competition. Where better to get information than the voicemails and other electronic data belonging to those in the news. The News of the World, Murdoch’s flagship paper, hacked the voicemails of a kidnapped 12 year old, the widows of fallen soldiers, and even the powerful. In 2006, the Murdoch papers invaded the private medical records of former Labour Party leader Gordon Brown.
A July 4 article by Nick Davies of the Guardian ignited the most recent focus on illegal actions by the Murdoch papers with the revelation about the hack of the 12 year old kidnap-murder victim. The outrage and subsequent revelations have laid waste to News Corporations plans for the total acquisition of a highly successful pay per view entertainment network, BSkyB.
Rockefeller’s statement comes just five days after reports by London’s Daily Mirror claiming that a Murdoch UK paper sought hacking services targeting the phone traffic and voicemails of 9/11 victims. David Collins of the Mirror wrote:
“This investigator is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims’ private phone data. He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their relatives.” Daily Mirror, July 7
The yet to be verified source said that the investigator making the inquires was particularly interested in the phone data on British 9/11 victims.
John Del Signore of The Gothamist said this of the Mirror’s reporting: “Of course, this has only been reported in The Mirror, which is reveling in its rival’s downfall, and eager to see Murdoch’s bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting go down in flames.”
Senator Rockefeller is a long standing member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and was its chairman from 2007 through 2009. It’s not likely that he relied on the Daily Mirror newspaper to form the basis for his concerns. It is highly unlikely that Rockefeller issued this brief but potent release without some evidence that the charges have merit. At this point, the Senator is just asking questions, in a public and very pointed way.
Rockefeller is not known for grandstanding or histrionics, although he can be very forthright at times. He chaired the Senate intelligence committee when it released a report on intelligence before the Iraq invasion, Rockefeller said:
“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.” Senate Intelligence Committee Unveils Final Phase II Reports on Prewar Iraq Intelligence June 5, 2008
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! Richard III
Murdoch will need more than a horse to retreat from the bloody battlefield that he created of his own free will. During the just ten days following the explosive Guardian report on phone hacking by Murdoch’s News of the World, he has sustained repeated attacks on his UK media properties, pending deals, and his personal integrity. Now a senior, well connected US Senator is questioning his integrity.
Last week, the man Murdoch helped elect Prime Minister, David Cameron, indirectly defended Murdoch, then abandoned him yesterday. PM Cameron took just two days to agree with the July 7 motion in Parliament to oppose Murdoch’s “must have” acquisition of pay cable giant BSkyB. The PM’s surrender is all the more significant since it was put forward by his harshest critic, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
All the while, the evidence of sleazy and scandalous behavior of the Murdoch papers has expanded geometrically.
Rockefeller’s statement is the harbinger of corporate death. Every time a real reporter is within shouting distance of Murdoch, the questions will be asked
“Mr. Murdoch, sir:”
Did you hack the phones or other media of 9/11 victims?
What possessed you to do that?
How many other invasions of privacy have the foot soldiers for your media empire conducted?
Is anyone safe from the spying of News Corporation?
Murdoch’s answers matter less than the fact that Senator Rockefeller’s statement opens the door to devastating inquiries. Increasingly, Murdoch will be seen as a toxic entity, someone requiring great distance, a Uriah Heep of the corporate elite. He’s simply not bankable anymore or fit for civil company.
But at long last, Murdoch has no shame. That requires a moral center, a set of beliefs consistent with the importance and integrity of civil discourse and governance.
Murdoch has inflicted great pain on the world and never flinched, never apologized. He is, after all, the owner of Fox News. Murdoch worked hand in hand with former President George W. Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq. Many who believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks got that information from the drumbeat of misinformation provided by Murdoch’s US media outlets.
Murdoch never apologized for his central role of supporting the Iraq invasion
or for the needless death and carnage that followed. Why would he apologize
for hacking phones to invade the lives of innocent citizens caught in a big
news story or those at the top of society and politics. His character is now