A legal net is closing around media mogul Rupert Murdoch. On Monday a top investigator in London reported that senior News Corp. employees authorized hundreds of bribes to police officers and other government officials.
But these reports of criminal behavior in the United Kingdom have yet to trigger a prosecution of Murdoch here in the States, where top executives can be held liable for systematically bribing foreign officials.
To stop this scandal from jumping the Atlantic, Murdoch has added legions of lobbyists and lawyers to his ranks. Their goal is to defang the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it unlawful for a U.S. corporation to pay off a foreign official for the purpose of advancing or protecting a business interest.
Rupert's Dream Team
Murdoch's new team of legal aces includes Mark Mendelsohn, a former Justice Department prosecutor who helped bring FCPA cases against companies including Siemens, Daimler Chrysler and Johnson & Johnson. In a controversial move, Mendelsohn jumped to the private sector to protect Murdoch and his fellow executives against the very sort of prosecutions that he used to lead.
Murdoch would not have put that level of investment into a legal team if he didn't think that U.S. enforcement against News Corp. fell within the realm of possibility. But while the Justice Department, FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission opened investigations against News Corp. last year, they have since said very little about their progress.
Some experts predict we will see no enforcement action against News Corp. during an election year as politicians and government agencies steer clear of a confrontation with one of the nation's most powerful media companies. Others believe News Corp. will move to settle before prosecutors assemble their FCPA case and take it to court.
Media Power Corrupts Absolutely
For its part News Corp. has sought to mute coverage of the phone-hacking and bribery scandals across its news empire. Last fall it went so far as to censor a joke Alec Baldwin planned to tell about the company's alleged crimes during Fox's broadcast of the Emmys.
Murdoch also invested a million dollars in lobbying efforts to declaw the FCPA, donating to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last summer just as the group was set to launch a high-profile campaign to rewrite the anti-bribery law.
This is how Murdoch works. For decades now he's wielded his enormous media power and financial might to build an empire, fight the public interest and place himself and his fellow News Corp. executives above the law.
Several public advocacy groups, including Free Press, Public Campaign, ThinkProgress, CREDO Action and Media Matters for America, have collected signatures from more than 200,000 Americans demanding a full investigation.
The present situation with News Corp. is exactly the sort of scenario these groups have warned against for years. When one company amasses too much control over a nation's public discourse, democracy suffers and corruption spreads. It's clear that Murdoch and his News Corp. colleagues believed that their tremendous media power placed them above the law.
But their fortunes are turning, and Rupert Murdoch must now answer for all that has happened under his watch. If he or his executives broke the law, they must be held accountable in the United States.