As members of the British Parliament trumpet Rupert Murdoch's decision to drop News Corp.'s proposed $12 billion takeover of BSkyB as a "victory," there are rumblings from lawmakers in the United States that the company may have violated American law over the course of the phone-hacking scandal plaguing the company. And now members of Congress are beginning to weigh in.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said he believes an investigation ought to be launched.
"I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated," Rockefeller said in a statement posted by Adweek. "I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans. If they did, the consequences will be severe."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) echoed Rockefeller's call, saying that a federal panel could establish whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "Further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation," Lautenberg wrote in a letter to regulators.
Lautenberg's home state colleague, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to open an investigation into News Corp.'s alleged phone hacking of 9/11 victims.
"The U.S. government must ensure that victims in the United States have not been subjected to illegal and unconscionable actions by these newspapers seeking to exploit information about their personal tragedies for profit," Menendez wrote. "Given the large scope of Scotland Yard's investigation which reportedly includes a list of 3,870 names, 5,000 land-line phone numbers and 4,000 cellphone numbers that may have been hacked, I believe it is imperative to investigate whether victims in the United States have been affected as well."
It's not just Democrats calling for Murdoch's head. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told Politico he plans to ask the FBI to investigate whether News Corp. hacked the phones of 9/11 victims.
Meanwhile, Eliot Spitzer, the former host of CNN's now-defunct "In The Arena," wrote in a Slate editorial that he thinks News Corp. should be prosecuted for such a violation.
It is hard to believe that the misbehavior in Murdoch's media empire stopped at the water's edge. Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans—Pacific as well as Atlantic—it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain.
Much more importantly, the facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment. While one must always be cautious in seeking government investigation of the media for the obvious First Amendment concerns, this is not actually an investigation of the media, but an investigation of criminal acts undertaken by those masquerading as members of the media.
Spitzer's not alone. The liberal advocacy group Think Progress has launched a petition "demanding a full and immediate investigation into any potential illegal acts by News Corporation and their subsidies."