Sympathy for the Devil, Murdoch vs DoJ Edition

by Alex Massie

There are few organisations that persuade one to root for Rupert Murdoch but the US Department of Justice is probably one. Then there's Eliot Spitzer, just the kind of creep and hypocrite* who is supposed to be treated roughly by the newspapers. Spitzer, yet another example that Scott Fitzgerald's silly suggestion "There are no second acts in American lives" is useful only because it's not at all true, wrote a typically vindictive piece for Slate this week arguing that News Corp be investigated by the American authorities. He argued that:

[T]he facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment.

In other words, the United States government should take advantage of a catch-all act to prosecute alleged-crimes that did not take place in the United States and it should do so simply to send some kind of muscle-flexing message. I doubt there are many large companies quoted on the New York Stock Exchange who could not, for one reason or another, be prosecuted under the terms of the FCPA. Like so many other broad-sweep bills enforcing it is almost by definition arbitrary and capricious.

News Corp may be an American company but News International is not. Or at least it isn't by any sensible layman's definition. This is a matter for the British authorities, not for the Americans and I don't really see why News Corp's American holdings – and employees – should be held responsible for the behaviour of its British interests.

To put it another way, I am not convinced Spitzer or Peter King (America's worst Congressman) would be impressed if these matters were running in the opposite direction. That is, if British authorities demanded an investigation into the activities of an American subsidiary of a British company just because they could even though little evidence existed that any crimes had taken place in the United Kingdom. At the very least they might demand that the American investigation be allowed to run its course first. 

Then again, the UK doesn't pretend to be able to exercise some kind of quasi-universal jurisdiction. Murdoch is hardly the most sympathetic figure but it's worth recalling that DoJ has attempted to close plenty of businesses that had committed no crime in their home countries (the ghastly saga of online poker is one obvious example of this.)

Moreover, the basis for an FBI investigation appears to rest upon a double-blind sourced report in the Daily Mirror – a claim that as Massimo Calabresi points out isn't so much thin as anorexic.

None of this bothers Spitzer:

The other reason to investigate here is that there is serious doubt that this matter can be investigated properly in Great Britain. Scotland Yard is already implicated, as is Cameron's government. DoJ can and should fill the void.

Well, we'll see. But no wonder the United States is (quite reasonably actually) wary of the International Criminal Court. Why bother with the ICC when the Department of Justice [sic] can do the job itself?

*If Spitzer wishes to sleep with hookers, that should be his right. Taking advantage of high-class prostitutes while zealously prosecuting other prostitution rings that were not favoured by his custom is quite another and made his downfall and (depressingly temporary) disgrace as pleasing as it was proper.