Fox News is far from the only American division of News Corp. to be pressed into service, checkbook in hand, when Murdoch’s interests—financial at least as much as ideological—are at stake. One classic example occurred in 1995, after the Federal Communications Commission questioned whether Murdoch had misled it in 1985, when News Corp., then based in Australia, secured Fox broadcast licenses despite a federal law limiting foreign ownership of local stations to 25 percent. The matter died soon after the News Corp. book division HarperCollins offered the then–Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, a $4.5 million advance. True to form, Murdoch claimed to have no idea that the book deal was ever in the works—even though he conceded having met with Gingrich just a few weeks earlier to discuss the FCC inquiry. (The ensuing ruckus shamed Gingrich into forgoing the advance.)
Collusion between journalists and top-level politicians is hardly a new phenomenon in our history, but News Corp. has set a new standard in scale for the mass-media era. And here, as in England, what drives Murdoch is not politics so much as money and power. Just as he could segue effortlessly from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, so he has ponied up for Democrats when he needed them, including hosting a fund-raiser for his newfound friend Hillary Clinton during her presidential run.
If Murdoch is to be undone in America, as in England, it won’t be politicians who take the lead. It will take aggressive journalism, law enforcement, and civil actions to force jettisoned News Corp. executives to sing. The latest so-called independent “management-and-standards committee” commissioned by Murdoch to conduct an internal investigation is particularly laughable, even by his standards. Its scope is limited to News Corp. behavior in England. Its chairman, Tony Grabiner, a London commercial lawyer, reports to Joel Klein, who in turn reports to Viet Dinh, a former Bush-administration lawyer who, in what one hopes is an unintended sick joke, is best known for embracing government phone hacking in his role as principal author of the Patriot Act. Both Klein and Dinh are on the News Corp. board. Klein’s News Corp. compensation this year is expected to be in the neighborhood of $4.5 million.
So far, the only major American news organization to follow the lead of the Guardian in London and devote serious resources to reporting on this scandal is the Times. (The Washington Post, once of Watergate fame, is now edited by Marcus Brauchli, who received a reported $6.4 million News Corp. severance check when he left as editor of The Wall Street Journal in 2008, four months after the Murdoch takeover.) When the Times published its first major examination of News of the World’s hacking as a magazine cover story last fall, News Corp. shills protested that it was motivated by rivalry with the Journal. “We reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire”—the only foot soldiers that News Corp.’s “investigation” of that time had found guilty of anything—“were part of a ‘culture’ of wrongdoing,” a News Corp. editor responded to the Times. This defense, now inoperative, was right out of the Nixon administration’s playbook in the early going of the firestorm that would ultimately lead to its demise.
News Corp. has protested just as loudly in denying that it is guilty of hacking in the U.S.—a meaningless claim given the avalanche of evidence yet to be examined, including the long-suppressed Scotland Yard stash of six large trash bags with 11,000 pages of handwritten notes about nearly 4,000 potential News of the World hacking victims. Besides, it may depend on how you define hacking. As David Carr recently wrote in his Times column, a Murdoch division in the newspaper-advertisement-insert business, News America Marketing, was accused of hacking into a rival company’s password-protected computer system, stealing proprietary information and then spreading “malicious information” about that competitor. Embarrassing testimony in the ensuing federal trial in New Jersey was abruptly shut down when News Corp. paid out a $29.5 million settlement and then bought outright the tiny company that had brought the case. Rather remarkably, News America Marketing alone has shelled out roughly two-thirds of a billion dollars—nearly the domestic gross of Avatar—to settle similarly ugly suits under its chief executive, Paul Carlucci. Perhaps less remarkably, Carlucci not only remains in place but is so valuable to Murdoch that he’s done double-duty as publisher of the New York Post since 2005.
Why Carlucci remains at his job(s) while Les Hinton, Murdoch’s chum of 52 years, was thrown overboard is one of the countless mysteries that remain to be solved. What we can guess is that Hinton’s severance payday was huge. He knows a lot. He ran News Corp.’s British papers at the time of their known criminality, then came to New York to run Dow Jones and the Journal. In his testimony before Parliament in 2007 and 2009, he said he was completely ignorant of the industrial-strength hacking at News of the World and that a single rogue reporter was the “only person” who did know. “We have no reason to doubt him, especially based on our own experience working for him,” read a lead Journal editorial defending Hinton (and Murdoch) on July 18. Good luck with that. Anyone who doubts that the Journal’s news pages have been compromised in the Murdoch-Hinton era need only consult the issue of July 15, the day Hinton resigned, when the front page of its culture section, “Friday Journal,” was given over to a promotional piece about Simon Cowell’s new Fox-network series, The X Factor, with a full additional page of coverage inside.