In December 1996, a Florida couple, John and Alice Martin, who sounded suspiciously like union goons, claimed to have inadvertently tapped into a phone conversation between then House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Republican leadership.
According to these Democratic and union activists, they were just driving around with a police scanner in their car, picked up a random phone conversation and said to themselves, "Wait a minute! I could swear that's Dick Armey's voice!"
Luckily, they also had a tape recorder and cassette in their car, so they proceeded to illegally record the intercepted conversation and then turned the tape over to Democratic Rep. James McDermott -- the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee that was at that very moment investigating Gingrich.
Although they swore they had no idea that what they were doing was a crime, in their cover letter to McDermott, they requested immunity -- just as you probably do whenever you write somebody a letter. (They later pleaded guilty to a crime under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.)
McDermott promptly turned the tape over to The New York Times and other newspapers. The Times' headline on the story, "Gingrich Is Heard Urging Tactics in Ethics Case," might as well have been titled: "Tape Shows Gingrich Conspiring to Act Within the Law."
John Boehner, one of the participants in the Gingrich call, sued McDermott for violating his First Amendment rights, which resulted in a court ordering McDermott to pay Boehner more than $1 million.
And yet, more than a dozen news organizations, many of the same ones demanding the death penalty for Rupert Murdoch right now, filed amicus briefs defending McDermott's distribution of the pirated tape.
Needless to say, the Times ferociously defended its own publication of the hacked phone call, arguing that it would be unconstitutional to punish the publication of information, no matter how obtained.
So it's strange to see these defenders of the press's right to publish absolutely anything get on their high horses about British tabloid reporters, operating under a different culture and legal system, hacking into cell phones.
Not only that, but they are demanding that the CEO of the vast, multinational corporation that owned the tabloids be severely punished.
This is because the CEO is Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch owns Fox News.
The entire mainstream media are fixated on Murdoch's imagined role in the Fleet Street phone-hacking story -- the only topic more boring than the debt ceiling -- solely in order to pursue their petty vendetta against Fox News, which liberals hate with the hot, hot heat of a thousand suns.