The critics also included the first prominent Republican, Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), who ripped Murdoch’s “yellow journalism” in a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III requesting an inquiry. King chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The unfolding scandal has imperiled Murdoch’s British operations, leading to the withdrawal Wednesday of his $12 billion offer for the country’s largest satellite television operator, British Sky Broadcasting Corp. But it so far hasn’t touched his much larger and more profitable U.S. holdings.
News Corp., based in New York, is primarily a U.S. company, and any impairment of its U.S. operations could seriously damage the empire Murdoch has almost single-handedly assembled since inheriting two ailing Australian newspapers from his father in 1952. Among others, News Corp.’s businesses include the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the networks Fox TV and Fox News Channel, and 27 TV stations, including WTTG (Channel 5) and WDCA (Channel 20) in Washington.
The scandal has led to media speculation that Murdoch’s U.S. TV-station holdings could be challenged under federal requirements that license holders be of “good character.”
But that seems a long shot. Revocation of a broadcast license by the Federal Communications Commission has been rare throughout its history, especially since the FCC deregulated its licensing requirements in the 1980s, said veteran communications lawyer Andrew Jay Schwartzman. Further, the agency probably would examine only conduct involving the stations’ management in deciding on a license challenge, not behavior that took place in a foreign operation.
“The short answer is, based on what we know has happened so far, none of his licenses are in jeopardy,” Schwartzman said.
Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is the first high-ranking American lawmaker to weigh in on Murdoch’s troubles. The West Virginia Democrat said he would “encourage” federal agencies to investigate whether News Corp. employees violated any U.S. privacy laws, especially relating to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. “If they did, the consequences will be severe,” he said in a joint statement with Boxer.
Rockefeller and Boxer appeared to be responding to an article in London’s Daily Mirror, which reported that journalists from News Corp.’s defunct tabloid, News of the World, had contacted an unidentified New York City policeman to get private phone records of British citizens who had died in the World Trade Center. The policeman was quoted as saying he declined to turn over any records.