With the news today that Mark Lewis, the British lawyer who successfully battled Rupert Murdoch and News International over illegal phone hacking in Britain, is going to file at least three cases in the United States against News Corporation for phone hacking on U.S. soil, one question comes to mind:
How far does the criminality at News Corporation go?
Looking back, every time there was an allegation of hacking or wrongdoing made against News Corporation/International employees, the company sought to minimize the damage by either denying the allegations or saying they were limited to one individual.
When hacking reports first surfaced in Britain and News International (News Corporation's British subsidiary) was forced to admit that someone at the News of the World had hacked into phones, they blamed the incidents on "one rogue reporter."
Later on, that excuse was made inoperative when it became apparent that hacking was endemic at News of the World, many reporters there had engaged in the practice and News of the World executives knew this.
At that point, News International claimed hacking was limited to the News of the World tabloid (which Murdoch promptly closed) and was not engaged in by employees at any other N.I. papers.
But that excuse was made inoperative when the police arrested a News International employee at News of the World's sibling paper, The Sun, for hacking.
At this point, News Corporation, looking to minimize the damage to just its British tabloids, began turning over reams of evidence to British police that led to the arrests of more Sun employees.
The atmosphere got so toxic at The Sun, as employees felt Rupert Murdoch and his scandal fixer Joel Klein were using them as scandal scapegoats, that Murdoch himself had to fly into London to quell potential rebellion.
Then allegations came that reporters for the Times of London, another Murdoch owned newspaper, had engaged in the hacking of email accounts, further ratcheting up the scandal from reporters at the Murdoch tabloids hacking into phones to reporters at the respected Times of London hacking into email accounts.
The line from News Corporation at this point was hacking and the attendant police bribery, corruption, conspiracy to cover up crimes and destruction of evidence were limited to its British newspapers and were being cleaned up by scandal fixer Joel Klein and News Corporation's new ethical guidelines committee.
But that excuse was made inoperative when it was reported that Sky News, a partially-owned Murdoch TV news channel, had also engaged in illegal hacking of computer accounts.
The excuse executives at Sky News used for the illegal hacking was that the crimes were in the "public interest," though legal experts in Britain say the legal statutes contain no such clause for law breaking.
In any case, the hacking scandal had now gone from Murdoch's British papers to a TV news channel partially owned by Murdoch. In an additional widening of the scandal, News Corporation has also been accused of hiring hackers to steal the security codes of rival satellite operators and disseminate those codes for free on the Internet to ruin its rivals.
When those allegations surfaced, Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter to deny them as ridiculous and to claim that News Corp. was getting ready to hit back hard against its opponents.
That was last week.
This week, one of its opponents, the lawyer who successfully fought the Murdochs and News International over hacking in Britain (winning settlements for Milly Dowler's family as well as scores of other hacking victims) instead has taken the fight to Murdoch and News Corporation by announcing suits to be filed in the U.S. over hacking on U.S. soil, with at least one of the alleged hackees a U.S. citizen.
At every point in time when News Corporation was faced with allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the Murdochs or their henchmen (including former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein) claimed the crimes were limited in scope and there was no further wrongdoing to be revealed.
Every one of those excuses by News Corporation was eventually proven inoperative.
Which brings me to the question of whether New York Post (or Wall Street Journal or FOX News) employees have engaged in any hacking or criminal wrongdoing.
News Corporation defenders have maintained that no hacking has occurred in the United States by News Corporation employees at U.S. news outlets.
Even the cases soon to be filed by Lewis are for hacking done by British reporters at the News of the World (though the hacking is alleged to have occurred on U.S. soil.)
But as I have noted above, at every juncture where News Corporation has tried to build a firewall to the scandal and limit the scope and the damage, the fire has breached the wall and spread elsewhere.
We have gone from phone hacking limited to "one rogue reporter" at News of the World to the exposure of widespread phone hacking by many News of the World employees to the spreading of the both phone and computer hacking to The Sun and the The Times of London to the additional spreading of the hacking to a TV operation partially owned by Rupert Murdoch to TV piracy allegations made against News Corporation in Australia, Britain and Italy.
With every excuse or denial made by News Corporation eventually made inoperative by subsequent revelations of criminal wrongdoing, why should we believe that News Corporation employees at the Murdoch-owned New York Post or Wall Street Journal or FOX News haven't engaged in criminal wrongdoing like hacking, bribery, extortion, etc.?
In addition, many News Corporation employees at the Post, Journal, et al. came over from Murdoch's British newspapers where criminal wrongdoing was habitual.
Why should we believe that those News Corporation journalists and employees left their criminal ways back in Britain when they began work at Murdoch's U.S. papers?
So far, betting that every allegation made against News Corporation over hacking, bribery, criminal activity, et al. is actually worse than first revealed would make you a lot of money while believing ANY of the excuses or denials News Corp. has offered in the scandal would lose you a lot of money.
Now that lawsuits are to be filed in the U.S. against News Corporation, there will be a lot of scrutiny to Murdoch's U.S. operations that he has so far avoided.
For whatever reason, the Obama DOJ has seemingly slow-walked its investigation of claims that News Corporation employees hacked into the family members of 9/11 victims, so much so that some family members have become frustrated by the lack of progress in the case.
I have speculated that just as the Obama DOJ didn't want to prosecute any Bushies over torture because of the political fallout such cases would engender, the Obama DOJ is reluctant to pursue a case against News Corp. here in the U.S. over hacking for fear of seeming "political" in an election year by going after the owner of FOX News.
But with Mark Lewis getting ready to file suits in both NY and LA, you can bet that Murdoch will no longer have his scandal firewall in the U.S. and the Obama DOJ will not be able to slow walk their investigation any more.
And as light gets shone onto News Corp's U.S. properties, particularly onto the Wall Street Journal (where publisher Les Hinton resigned as a consequence of the hacking scandal in Britain) and the Post, more criminal wrongdoing by News Corporation employees will be exposed.
So far that has been the case at every juncture of the scandal.
There is no reason to believe that has changed now.