Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has called for an investigation of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corp for possible violations of United States law. Rockefeller, who has substantial authority over the telecommunications industry as chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said that he is concerned News Corp may have violated multiple U.S. laws by hacking the phones of 9/11 victims.
News Corp is already facing trouble overseas because of the phone hacking allegations. Earlier this week multiple publications in Great Britain reported that the News of World, a British tabloid owned by News Corp, had hacked into the phone of a 13-year-old kidnapping victim named Miley Dowley. When the Dowley’s voicemail box filled up News of the World then deleted the voice message to make more room, giving the family hope that Dowley was still alive. Sadly, Dowley was later confirmed dead in a case of murder. Since that time, the phone hacking allegations have expanded to include terrorist attack victims, the former prime minister, and even members of the Royal Family. Eventually Murdoch shut down News of the World, but he has refused to dismiss the former editor of the publication or his son, James Murdoch, who was involved in the scandal. News Corp has subsequently lost $7 billion in value in the trading markets.
As the story has developed some have speculated as to whether News Corp may have engaged in the same kind of activities in the United States. News Corp owns a significant interest in Fox Television, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal among other companies. Many of the News Corp in America have past experience working in Great Britain. Les Hinton, the current publisher of The Wall Street Journal, was actually in the editor for News of the World when much of the alleged phone hacking took place. There have also been reports from Britain that News of the World may have bribed New York City Police Department officials for the phone numbers of 9/11 victims.
A congressional investigation would presumably look into the hacking allegations. New Corp could try to run to the protection of the First Amendment, but it is unclear how successful that tactic would be. If any of Murdoch’s American operation were found to have engaged in the same type of behavior as News of the World the public backlash would surely be enormous, and the Federal Communications Commission could go as far as to strip the broadcasting stations of their license.