Two weeks after getting fired from Fox News for being a "mole" dishing dirt on Rupert Murdoch's news channel, Joe Muto reported that on Wednesday he received an early morning visit from New York County District Attorney officials who arrived with a warrant and left with his phone, laptop and notebooks. They were responding to News Corp.'s allegations that Muto had committed larceny when he shared his inside-Fox News account, complete with in-house video from the channel's servers, with Gawker in a series of controversial posts.
This week's swift law enforcement response to the relatively minor criminal case stands in stark contrast to when competitors to a News Corp. subsidiary, News America, spent years beseeching law enforcement agencies to fully investigate claims that News America employees had illegally hacked into a competitor's secure website and stolen proprietary information in an effort to steal away clients and "destroy" the company, according to one of its owners.
At the time, federal investigators at the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's office, overseen then by Chris Christie, refused to take the Murdoch-related case seriously and no criminal charges were ever filed. That, despite the fact that years later as part of a civil case, a News Corp. attorney admitted in open court that the company's computers had been used to hack into a competitor's website. (News Corp. insisted it couldn't determine who did the hacking; evidence suggests the company didn't dig very deep to find out.)
In the wake of the "mole" story there's certainly a sharp contrast in terms of how quickly the story about Muto's mid-level mischievousness sparked a criminal investigation, as compared to how the much more serious allegations of corporate corruption within the suites of Murdoch's American empire went mostly untouched for years.
It was always a matter of time before the News International phone hacking scandal washed ashore on the American side of the Atlantic. News Corporation is legally chartered here and listed on the NASDAQ, is physically headquartered in Manhattan, and controls several influential U.S. properties across a range of media. A News Corp. scandal like the phone hacking charges that engulfed its British print subsidiary is by definition an American scandal.
Long maintaining a pride of place amongst News Corp.'s U.S. holdings is The New York Post, which Rupert Murdoch purchased in 1976 for $30 million -- or roughly half of what the paper is estimated to bleed in annual losses.
Rupert Murdoch has bought other New York print properties over the years, including New York magazine and the Village Voice, but the Post has always been dearest to him. Murdoch is a tabloid creature at heart -- known for his love for short and punchy articles -- and over the course of nearly 40 years, the Post is the only American publication he's ever bought twice. After selling the paper in 1988 in an act of forced compliance with now-defunct media ownership laws, the American-naturalized mogul reacquired the paper in 1993 with a crucial assist from New York's then-governor Mario Cuomo.
It is during this most recent 18-year ownership stint that the Post has established an unrivaled reputation as the bottom-feeder of American print journalism. The paper's near-comical reputation for inaccuracy is so widespread that even Gretchen Carlson -- an anchor at Fox News, the Post's corporate cousin -- recently criticized its lack of credibility.
This is not surprising, considering that The Post was for years Murdoch's only U.S. print property staffed with his clan's inner-circle of favored British and Australian tabloid veterans. The paper lost this distinction when Murdoch purchased The Wall Street Journal in 2007 and installed lifetime loyalist and News International chairman Les Hinton as publisher. Hinton resigned this past July in the wake of growing controversy over his leadership role at News International between 1995 and 2007, when phone hacking is known to have occurred at the papers under his control.
Years before Murdoch installed Hinton at the Journal, he imported another Fleet Street product to New York in the form of Colin Myler. At the time of his arrival in 2001, Myler was all but unemployable in Britain. In April of that year, he had resigned after publishing an article in the Sunday Mirror that led to the collapse of an active and very expensive trial. Myler faced the possibility of criminal charges and even jail time, but in the end his paper was merely fined for contempt of court. Murdoch apparently intended to keep Myler in New York until the British public forgot about the incident, and he worked as a top editor at the Post for nearly six years. In 2007, Murdoch brought Myler back into the News International fold to edit the now defunct News of the World. The man who had left the UK under a cloud of his own scandal returned to deal with another editor's mess: Myler replaced editor Andy Coulson, who had just resigned in the wake of revelations that News of the World reporters had hacked into royal voicemails.
Myler probably wishes he had stayed in New York. Soon after his return to London, he took over the internal investigation that concluded hacking at the tabloid was restricted to one "rogue reporter." The next year, Myler personally advised James Murdoch to authorize a large out-of-court payment to a hacking victim. The disgraced editor has most recently emerged on the other side of the Murdoch divide. He now disputes the idea that James Murdoch was not exposed to the possibility that multiple reporters were involved in hacking. Myler's reversal, in which he is joined by News of the World's former head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, may result in James Murdoch being summoned for a second time before British Members of Parliament.
Soon after the News of the World scandal exploded this summer, questions emerged over whether similar illegal activity may have occurred at the Post. As a Fleet Street veteran, Myler provided connective tissue between News International and a News Corp. U.S. print operation. But Myler isn't the only Post figure to draw scrutiny. There is also the Post editor-in-chief to whom Myler reported in New York, the Australian Col Allan. The veteran editor is equally notorious for his taste and tolerance for sleaze, vengeance, and venom as he is for an ability to alienate and disgust his staff. Not for nothing is his Post nickname "Col Pot."