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.
Every guest on MSNBC is asked the same question: Is it possible to believe that Murdoch was unaware of what some reporters at News of the World were doing? How can a network that employs Chris Matthews be unfamiliar with the concept of a "rogue employee"?
In fact, it's quite easy to believe Murdoch was unaware of what News of the World reporters were doing -- particularly considering the striking absence of any evidence to the contrary.
Murdoch is an American who owns television networks, satellite operations and newspapers all over the world. As he said in his testimony this week, News Corp. has 53,000 employees and, until its recent demise, News of the World amounted to a grand total of 1 percent of News Corp.'s operations.
Why wasn't Les Moonves responsible for CBS anchor Dan Rather trying to throw the 2004 presidential election with phony National Guard documents one month before the election? Moonves was president, CEO and director of CBS, a company with half as many employees as News Corp. And his rogue employee constituted a much bigger part of CBS' business than News of the World did of the Murdoch empire.
And yet no one asked if Moonves was aware that his network was about to accuse a sitting president of shirking his National Guard duty. Moonves wasn't dragged before multiple congressional panels. Nor was MSNBC tracking his every bowel movement on live TV. No one remembers the biggest media scandal of the last 30 years as "The Les Moonves Scandal."
What about all the illegally obtained information regularly printed in the Times? Was Pinch Sulzberger unaware his newspaper was publishing classified government documents illegally obtained by Julian Assange?
Did he know that in 2006 the Times published illegally leaked classified documents concerning a government program following terrorists' financial transactions; that in 2005 it revealed illegally obtained information about a top-secret government program tracking phone calls connected to numbers found in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's cell phone; and, that, in 1997, the paper published an illegally obtained phone call between Newt Gingrich and Republican leaders?
If only Murdoch's minions had hacked into the phones of George Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, liberals would be submitting his name to the pope for sainthood.
But now the rest of us have to watch while the mainstream media pursue their personal grudge against Rupert Murdoch for allowing Fox News to exist. They demand his head for owning a British tabloid where some reporters used illegally obtained information, something The New York Times does defiantly on a regular basis.
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