In the UK, the News of the World/News Corp/Murdoch scandal seems to be reawakening democracy. A big, powerful corporation has been found to be engaged in criminal activity, manipulating news, paying off police and politicians, and generally getting its way. The people, press and politicians are rising up, holding the company and its executives legally accountable and are taking back control of their system. Could this happen in the US?
This is my last full day in the UK. The top story in the media for the two weeks I have been here has been the News of the World "phone-hacking" story that I explained in some detail last week. This newspaper was engaged in criminal activity, was caught a few years ago, but used American-style damage-control techniques to manipulate the government, police and public opinion into accepting that the criminality was limited to the sacrificial lamb they threw to them. So the damage to Murdoch's News Corp. was limited at the time, and News Corp appeared to have impunity. But, unlike how things are now done in the US, investigative reporters (particularly at the Guardian) continued to dig into the story and continued to reveal to the public that News Corp. was engaging in criminal activity until the story could no longer be ignored by the powerful.
The latest big news is that the head of Scotland Yard has resigned, in part because earlier investigations into Murdoch-corporation activities "didn't get to the bottom of this." The press is full of questions about how this criminal company was able to operate for in this manner so long, and who in the government looked the other way. This is now as big a story as the original and ongoing criminal activities of Murdoch's companies.
Another story is the way executives left Murdoch's companies and entered government into positions where they could protect the interests of Murdoch's company, including influencing the phone-hacking investigations. And finally, the story here is about politicians who are "cozy" with Murdoch's media empire, who were propelled into government by the power of that empire.
Not yet part of the story: the manipulation of government policy to serve the interests of the owners of the criminal company. In fact, just as the media was beginning to touch on this aspect of the story the company took extraordinary steps to build a firewall and attempt to contain the scandal. Top executives in the UK and in England were removed from their posts, an "apology" was printed in all the papers here, and Murdoch himself made public apologies and News Corp started a major counterattack. So far News Corp's second-largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, has been kept in the background. Prince Al Waleed was interviewed by the BBC Thursday on his yacht in Cannes. Immediately the firewall began to be constructed.
(These are questions, not accusations. While being part-owner of the conservative News Corp., Al Waleed also speaks out for democratic reform and women's rights in Saudi Arabia.)
But questions about News Corp. pushing policies that benefit its owners have yet to be pursued. Does News Corp. push climate-change denial to benefit the interests of oil-producing Saudi Arabia? Did News Corp push the invasion of Iraq to benefit Saudi Arabia?
What About In the US?
Does all of this sound familiar to any of you reading this in America?
And so the parallels to American standard-operating-procedure stand out. Criminal corporations manipulating government, police and public opinion. A revolving door through which corporate executives pass into government and protect the interests of their companies. A conservative media empire manipulating news and propelling politicians to benefit their financial interests. Politicians cozy with corporate executives who never seem to be held accountable.
As Richard Eskow wrote the other day, Want to Solve All your Problems, Rupert Murdoch? Become A Banker.
But there's an easy way for Mr. Murdoch to protect himself from these inquiries and save his company at the same time: Turn the News Corporation into a Wall Street bank. There won't be any prosecutions, and the government will even sweeten the deal with billions of dollars in easy money. And if Murdoch follows the trail blazed by bankers like Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, soon they'll be begging him to acquire more companies.
... By contrast, despite its long list of proven crimes nobody at [JPMorgan Chase CEO] Dimon's bank has been arrested. Apparently arrests, like the financial consequences of one's actions, are for borrowers only. And Dimon only appears before our elected representative for cozy private get-togethers, not public enquiries.
Seriously, there was just enough democracy left in the institutions of the UK to enable a media giant like News Corp to be held accountable. Just how accountable is yet to be seen, but with the press in full investigative mode, parliamentary investigations, resignations and arrests at the tops of big, powerful corporations that are way-to-cozy with politicians we are seeing a reaction to this story that is simply not imaginable in our own country today.
Here is one test that will tell us if accountability is still possible here. What follow-up will we see from the Justice Department in response to the revelation that members of the Financial Crisis panel illegally leaked inside information, including plans to investigate foreign banks, to lobbyists? See Financial Crisis Panel Commissioners Leaked Confidential Information To Lobbyists, Report Alleges,
Republican commissioners on the panel created by Congress to probe the roots of the financial crisis leaked documents to partisan allies and shared confidential information with influence peddlers, according to a Wednesday report by Democrats on a Congressional oversight committee.
Another area for investigation is the revolving door through which lobbyists or top people of the criminal corporation became government officials and government officials become executives or lobbyists. Are they using their influence in government to protect the interests of the companies that paid or will pay them? That sure looks like bribery, whatever other words one might use.
Another area of investigations is companies that fund or otherwise influence public opinion and politics and campaigns or reward politicians or fund their campaigns. That is bribery, because companies have to act in the financial interest of shareholders and rewarding a politician in the interest of shareholders is bribery by definition.
Please, add some more tests in the comments. What stories have you seen revealing illegal activity and collusion between elected representatives, government officials and big corporations with no one held accountable? Obviously there is Wall Street, mortgage fraud and securities manipulations. There are all the crimes from the Bush era that went uninvestigated. (Who ended up with all that money that went missing in Iraq?) But there are so many instances of crimes reported but not investigated and certainly not prosecuted. There are so many clear cases of big corporations using media to manipulate public opinion. And there are so many cases of our election laws violated with impunity.
Are we going to be able to take back democracy and accountability here? Or not? Will our own Department of Justice start to hold law-violators accountable? Or not.
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