Fox News haters are circling in the water so furiously that the sharks are calling their lawyers. The phone-hacking scandal that led to the closing of one of the world’s oldest papers, the News of the World, has shaken Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire, and the whiff of blood in the water is obviously exhilarating for his enemies.
So we’re visited by that rarest of events: an overseas news story receiving wall-to-wall coverage by domestic news outlets. Any American who hasn’t yet heard that the Murdoch-owned British tabloid hacked into people’s voice mails to gather juicy stories must not be watching MSNBC, listening to NPR, or reading the Daily Beast.
Why, you ask? The answer is simple, and came unsurprisingly from MSNBC’s premier breakfast show, Morning Joe. “Does this jump the Pond?” asked Mike Barnicle, one of the show’s regulars, on Monday. “Does this come to America?” Or, as another regular put it more directly: Will Murdoch properties in the U.S. such as the New York Post and Fox News be investigated?
Voila, the thing did jump the pond Wednesday. No, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any of the revolting practices at Murdoch’s British media properties have found a home stateside. But that didn’t stop a handful of U.S. congressmen from calling for an investigation into the doings at U.S.-based Murdoch outlets, which include the Wall Street Journal (where I worked in pre-Murdoch days).
How revolting were the practices in England? Let’s get the horrific facts out of the way first. If the allegations are right, the criminals who committed these acts while working as “journalists” are repugnant, which is why Murdoch himself shut down the News of The World last Sunday. The vampires didn’t just seek salacious tidbits about the lives of Royals and soccer stars, and other celebrities who feed off media attention (not that that would be excusable). They went after non-public figures and hurt people who were vulnerable.
They hacked into the phone of a kidnapped — and, we later found out, murdered — girl. But because her voice mail kept getting full, these “journalists” deleted some messages, giving her parents false hopes she was still alive.
These were crimes. Stealing people’s private property, which is what hacking amounts to, is a crime. Bribing police, also alleged to have taken place, is a crime. It doesn’t matter the context. It’s similar to the futility of “hate crimes.” Hurting other people already is a crime, it doesn’t matter why.
In this case, it may be worse than futile if the result is diminished press freedoms in Britain, let alone here. Prime Minister David Cameron is already muttering darkly about “a revision of regulation of the press.”