The unraveling of the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal has illuminated the extraordinary power the media mogul wielded over British politics through the use of newspapers; dailies that often embraced unseemly ways of digging up dirt on their favorite targets. The fear factor that surrounded Murdoch for so many years (politicians were "terrified" of him) has melted away, leaving him vulnerable.
It's suddenly "open season" on Murdoch, reports the Los Angeles Times, "with politicians once too afraid to criticize him now lining up to rail against the Australian-born billionaire and his vast media holdings."
Not so much in conservative American circles though, where Murdoch's media holdings still hold enormous sway, and where his political friends and beneficiaries are willing to stand by him.
Yes, there have been bipartisan calls to investigate News Corp. here, including an influential demand from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). But note the additional calls for calm and understanding come from those who have benefited from their Murdoch relationship.
Like Murdoch's British print machine, Fox News openly wields political influence. It proudly doubles as a political operation, rewarding its friends (often financially), and punishing its foes. Meaning, there's a telling parallel between the media landscape in Britain and the United States, and it's one worth noting during the time of Murdoch's mounting troubles.
For instance, at least three prominent figures with close professional ties to Murdoch's Fox News have done their best in recent days to downplay the significance of the News Corp. crisis, to assure Americans that law-breaking remains completely outside the realm of possibility at Fox News, or to discourage Congressional investigations.
Here was Rudy Giuliani, when asked about the hacking scandal, and specifically any possible wrongdoing by Murdoch [emphasis added]:
"Give people the presumption of innocence," Giuliani told CNN's Candy Crowley in New Hampshire on Thursday. "I think that just how high up it goes is a big question and one we shouldn't be jumping to conclusions about."
"He's a very honorable, honest man," the former mayor said. "This can't be something that he would have anything to do with."
Is it surprising Giuliani would instinctively defend Murdoch? Not really. Aside from being a close, personal friend with Murdoch, who attended Giuliani's 2003 wedding, Giuliani's law firm cashed $100,000 in News Corp. lobbying fees in 2005. And during his sputtered presidential run in 2007 and 2008, Fox News often resembled a Giuliani campaign channel, with its relentlessly sunny and safe coverage of him.
Meanwhile, this was Ohio Governor John Kasich's response, when asked over the weekend on Meet the Press about what impact the hacking scandal would have on Fox News, and what the reaction there has been:
They have not been touched this, they have told me. And-- I believe them. And-- we just have to see how this all unfolds. It's-- you know, Murdoch's fired people. He's-- you know, he's-- he's quoted as-- as-- as being told that his hands in his-- his-- in his-- his head in his hands, crying with the family that-- was impacted. I mean it's-- it's a terrible thing. And-- hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it. And it will change-- it'll change journalism.
Wait, Murdoch fired people connected to the hacking scandal? That's a rather fantastic re-telling of the tale so far. In fact, not only didn't Murdoch fire disgraced News Of The World editor Rebekah Brooks right after the phone hacking scandal rekindled this month, but for days he reportedly refused to accept her resignation. (He finally accepted it late last week.)
But on Meet the Press in the loving hands of Kasich, that becomes "Murdoch's fired people." And Rupert feels just terrible about what's happened.
Please keep in mind that last year News Corp. wrote a $1 million check to the Republican Governors Association as a result of Murdoch's "friendship" with Kasich, as Politico quoted the chairman describing the donation. And according to a Columbus Dispatch report, the RGA paid for 3,000 ads --worth more than $1 million-- attacking Kasich's Democratic opponent. Also, recall that Kasich was on the Fox News payroll for nine years, earning, at one point, a quarter-of-a-million dollars (annually) to host a once-a-week television show.
Thirdly, here was Tea Party favorite Jim DeMint, also appearing on last weekend's Meet the Press, asked by host David Gregory if Congress should investigate the Murdoch scandal:
David, we need to let law enforcement work here. Congress has had-- has got a big issue in front of us. We need to handle our own business for a change. And wi-- the focus this week is on the on-- the only plan we've got and that's cut cap and balance.
Shorter DeMint: Congress is too busy to find out whether a U.S.-based media conglomerate has morphed into a criminal enterprise, as portions of News Corp. appear to have done in Britain.
And what's DeMint's professional connection to Murdoch's Fox News? He's a star in Roger Ailes' universe. Just since the beginning of June, Fox News has had DeMint on ten times and showered him with an entire hour of free airtime. Not a big deal? Ask around Congress and its hundreds of members to see how many would like to be featured on a top-rated cable news channel ten times in six weeks. The answer, most likely, is every one of them.
DeMint has hinted he's entertaining the idea of running for president. Even if he does not, the platform Fox News continues to give him cements his position as a national player within the Republican Party, as well as the Tea Party movement.
Isn't it telling that public officials who profit off Murdoch financially, professionally, or both, are among those issuing soothing statements about the raging News Corp. scandal?