By Michael Collins
How will they get rid of Rupert Murdoch and his toxic enterprises?
July 4, 2011 may turn into the people’s Independence Day. On that day, stellar journalist Nick Davies of the Guardian released his story; Missing Milly Dowler’s voicemail was hacked by News of the World. Twelve year old Milly Dowler had been kidnapped with foul play feared. The Murdoch tabloid couldn’t resist. News of the World (the News) hired a private detective to hack Milly’s voicemail. Finding the mail box full, the News or its hired dick deleted existing messages to make room for new ones, all to fuel their ongoing coverage. The deleted messages raised hopes by Milly’s parents that she was still alive and using her voicemail. (Image)
The Davies story elicited a reaction of near universal shock, outrage, and revulsion. Milly had already been murdered by the time the Murdoch paper began its illegal tapping.
The public revulsion resulted in immediate and fervent popular demands for justice. Those demands were compounded by follow-up stories on other Murdoch media hacking. As it turned out, the News also broke into the voicemails of war widows to capture their most intimate exchanges on the loss of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. All in all, at least 4,000 citizens had their voicemails hacked to boost the Murdoch publication’s circulation and profits.
Driven by broad public ire, Murdoch’s empire began unraveling immediately. He became a target for those he’d tormented, particularly in politics. In just a few days, he became anathema for those he’d placed in power, indicating the focused intensity and force of public outrage. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron fell in line with Labour Party Leader Ed Milliband’s call to stop Murdoch’s critical acquisition of pay TV network BSkyB. The Independent spoke of Murdoch having to abandon his United Kingdom media properties.
The crisis spread across the Atlantic when Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller demanded that law enforcement look into possible voicemail and other electronic surveillance of 9/11 survivors in the United States by Murdoch’s News Corporation.
“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
The very next day the FBI announced an investigation. Ominously for Murdoch, Rep Peter King (R-NY), endorsed the effort immediately. King has been a friend of Fox for some time and a frequent guest on the network’s news programs.
Ignored in all of this well justified outrage is the ultimate sin of the Murdoch media empire, enabling and encouraging the lethal invasion of Iraq by supporting the insane plans of former President George W. Bush and his collaborator, former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The war took a terrible toll in injuries and deaths of US forces. The anticipated civil strife that followed the invasion resulted in a million dead Iraqi civilians, several million refugees, and, at one point, five million orphans.
Forced Exist Strategies for Murdoch
The legal options in the United Kingdom are fairly straight forward. Two former News editors have already been arrested, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. Those devastating blows followed proposals in Parliament block Murdoch’s acquisition, a near certainty now, and to break up his media empire. Murdoch beneficiary, PM Cameron, supported the former and may be forced to support the latter.
The public outrage in the UK shows no signs of waning. The pressure to do something dramatic will reach a fever pitch after Tuesday’s hearings by the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee. Murdoch and others News Corporation luminaries will face a robust interrogation.
Murdoch has already withdrawn his bid for total control of the lucrative BSkyB cable network. He may lose the ability to keep his current 39% if he’s found an “unfit person” for media ownership.
In addition, the UK has anti-bribery legislation that may apply, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. News Corporation and executives are vulnerable to charges under the act. A “corrupt transaction” [bribe] is defined as occurring when “any person corruptly gives or agrees to give or offers any gift or consideration to any agent as an inducement or reward” in return for a favor of some kind. Former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, already admitted “corrupt transactions” in 2003 (see below).
Beyond the specific admission by Brooks, there are a number of allegations that the London Metropolitan Police were bribed to limit and impede the investigations into the News phone hacking.
A combination of phone hacking plus violations of the Prevention of Corruption Act await Murdoch. This would go beyond what the The Independent suggested when it wrote of Murdoch, “abandoning his British media interests.”
The rapidly unfolding catastrophe in the UK does something to Murdoch that he can ill afford. It shows that he is vulnerable.
Who shows any sympathy to a vulgar, amoral bully when his time is up?
Senator Rockefeller’s demand for an investigation of News Corporation is a work of political art. How could a 20 year member of the Senate intelligence Committee raise a question about harassing victim families of the 9/11 attack without knowing the answer in advance? Was the 9/11 question raised to open the door for a broad based attack on Murdoch in the US?
Murdoch is clearly a toxic force in politics and a menace to rational governance even by the standards of oligarchs. His propaganda for the Iraq invasion left dead and injured, a shattered reputation for the nation, diminished effectiveness overseas, and added four trillion dollars in debt. The Tea Party movement with its cast of borderline politicos is out of control. Sarah Palin’s targeting rhetoric was closely associated with the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-AZ).
Most recently, the fruit of the Fox fueled Tea Party juggernaut, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, showed a willingness to take the nation and the world into a devastating economic depression with their impossible requirement for a balanced budget before raising the US debt ceiling. This indicates a massive disconnect with reality.
Murdoch’s News Corporation has the power to create all of this havoc and more. It is autonomous and subject only to the profoundly distorted political whims of its tottering leader. Murdoch mischief amounts to very real threats that are unacceptable for those with the ability to put Murdoch out of business.
Running Murdoch Out of the US
If Murdoch’s time has come, a variation of this scenario is available as you read these words.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is used to prosecute bribes of foreign officials. Created in the late 1990s, the act was signed by thirty-four nations, including the US and the UK. The Justice Department has used the act frequently in recent years.
News Corporation’s Rebekah Brooks has already admitted giving cash to the London Metropolitan Police at a 2003 public hearing. Brooks was editor of the News at the time.
Federal prosecutors have combined the FCPA with The Travel Act of 1961 to increase the penalties and convictions for foreign bribery. Brooks is a citizen of the UK. However, her acts are the ultimate responsibility of Murdoch’s News Corporation, incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York City. The act outlaws travel and communications from one state or country to another country with the intent of violating the law. Federal prosecutors can indict perpetrators using applicable state law. New York State law classifies bribing a public official as a felony as is interfering with the administration of justice.. Therefore, News Corporation could be charged with felonies under The Travel Act, FCPA, and New York criminal code.
Here is the Brooks testimony admitting cash payments to the London police. Also at the inquiry was Andy Coulson, News of the World Editors, 2003-2007. Brooks was editor of the News form 2000-2003.
Committee: And I might just ask have they [the News] ever paid the police? Just the one element of whether you ever pay the police.
Brooks: We have paid the police for information in the past and it’s been …
Committee: And will you do it in the future.
Brooks: It depends on…
Committee: Will you operate within the code and within the law.
Andy Coulson: We operate within the code and within the law and if there’s a clear public interest and the same holds for private detectives, for subterfuge, for video bags, whatever you want to talk about…
Committee: It’s illegal for police officers to receive payment
Coulson: No, no, no, we don’t, I just said, ‘within the law.’
This testimony fits in neatly with the accusations that the News paid off London police to slow-roll the phone hacking investigation.
If they want Murdoch, they’ve got him. Wide spread speculation that Murdoch is subject to indictment will drive down News Corporation shares, costing Murdoch billions, and threaten the viability or even profitable sale of his US properties. The picture may turn grim very soon for the once but not future grand master of media manipulation.
The Voice of the People
Public reaction in the UK has put the entirety of Rupert Murdoch;s British holdings at risk. Since July 4, the public reduced the press overlord who made and controlled British politics to the status of a flight risk. Can Murdoch relax for a moment in his London mansion knowing that if he ever faces a trial, he will surely have a jury that would do everything it could to make sure he served the rest of his life in a British prison.
These rapid and dramatic shifts have much more to do with the outrage of citizens than with the popular proposals of Labour Leader Ed Miliband that would break up News Corporation’s UK operations. This leader is following the people.
The prospect of a similar public outrage in the US is currently a function of the FBI investigation. Confirmation of the shameless act of spying on the families of 9/11 victims would cause an eruption of anger that would spread across the nation at warp speed. Murdoch would be finished here, one way or another.
Powerful forces will work against this, challenging Rockefeller and others who are, without much doubt, intent on sending Murdoch away. Questioning News Corporation exploitation of 9/11 families is a charge, a deep mark, that will firmly attach to the Fox news outlets, cable, broadcast, and print properties for decades.
The people of the United Kingdom found their voice and demonstrated that they cannot be stopped when they act in unison. The precedent is set. For decades, the citizens of the United States have not had a moment where their unified will caused a rapid policy change. If the opportunity arises, manufactured or not, the precedent may be set here and generalize to broader interests. It is time to stop the extraction of nearly all of the nation’s wealth and power by the very few at the expense of the overwhelming majority.
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