Senator Jay Rockefeller called on Congress Tuesday to begin an investigation into whether News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch oversaw reporting activities in the U.S. similar to those that have recently rocked the establishment in Britain. Said the Democrat for West Virginia, "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."
You could dismiss his comments as bluster, a politician seeking topical relevance using 9/11 as an ever-convenient backdrop. But the man does know a thing or two about the techniques of electronic surveillance and information gathering. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Rockefeller has been a strong advocate of the Patriot Act and FISA, and in his role no doubt benefits from the industrial level data mining to which the government subjects its citizens. Still, setting aside for a moment the cold irony of Sen. Rockefeller's rhetoric, Americans would be well advised to support any forum that shines a light on Rupert Murdock's media empire and his political power. In the incestuous world of business and politics, thickly populated as it is by the most odious figures, Rupert Murdock represents a high-water mark.
From the time he entered the British market in 1969, Murdock has amassed enormous power to shape politics in England. His ideology and his agenda live on the extreme right of the spectrum. He began with the purchase of The Sun, a working class paper, which he promptly turned into a political rag to attack the left. As a newspaper man he has very successfully relied on sex, scandal, and character assassination to sell papers and amass power. His empire in Britain has grown to also include The Sunday Times and a substantial interest in British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) -- News of the World having just been shuttered over the phone hacking scandal.
Before Tony Blair ever rose to prominence, Murdock's papers portrayed Labor leader Neil Kinnock as mentally unbalanced, just one of the many sensational -- and false -- examples of personal attack. Only after Tony Blair went to Australia, in a pitiful pilgrimage to bow and scrape before the throne, did the Murdock machine swing in favor of Blair and propel him to power. Of course, Blair did a deal, agreed to toe the party line, which lead to Britain's disasterous support of Bush and the Iraq War. Murdock and his pet Rebekah Brooks were very close with Blair and his wife Cherie. But he remains true to his corporatist and capitalist ideology. When he sensed that Blair's successor Gordon Brown would not be suitably "reliable", Brown's personal information and family life became another of the thousands of targets on which News International trained its sights. And Murdock then happily threw his weight to David Cameron and the Conservatives, and it is now the Camerons with whom Rebekah Brooks shares that cozy social world.
The recent unraveling of the Murdock empire in Britain has shown a callous disregard for both the rule of law and common decency. The hacking of phones -- from a 13-year old murder victim to the Prince of Wales -- the corrupting of police, the blagging of personal information and the harassment of public officials, these are all clear evidence of morally bankrupt personal and business culture.
It is a culture that is thriving in America. And it is a culture that has attracted like-minded partisans from the Republican Party, many of whom are paid contributors to Fox "News", some of whom use the platform to launch a bid for the Presidency. It is a culture that needs to be completely discredited, and completely discarded.
The Germans have a word for it -- the Germans have a word for most everything -- and that word is schadenfreude. When you think of Rupert Murdock, his vast fortune and enormous unelected political power, his media empire built on a brutal conservative ideology, you might feel a definite sense of pleasure at his current troubles. It never happens often enough, or to as many people as truly deserve it, but the wheel does occasionally does come 'round full circle (perhaps you remember Conrad Black).
As the revelations continue to mount in the NoW hacking story and the contagion spreads to News Corp. and its crown jewels in the US, in what may become the blessed downfall of Rupert Murdock, Americans might begin to reclaim their collective voice as a tentative first step in the long road back to democracy.