Members of Congress are still making noise here and there about News Corp.'s phone hacking scandal, but they keep on asking others to take on the tough task of actually investigating the hacking, and whether it happened here, rather than moving to do it themselves.
On Wednesday, two Democratic senators, Jay Rockefeller and Barbara Boxer, who last week became the first members of Congress to call on the Department of Justice and the SEC to investigate News Corp. in the U.S., used their clout to punt once again. This time, they sent a letter to the Dow Jones and Company Special Committee, which was created to ensure the Wall Street Journal's editorial independence when News Corp. bought the paper and its parent company in 2007. In the letter, the senators ask whether the largely toothless committee will conduct its own investigation of the paper and its leadership (it has already said it won't), and for answers about former Dow Jones CEO and Journal publisher Les Hinton, who resigned his post on Friday as a result of his connection to the scandal.
"We were pleased to learn that the Special Committee will take steps to ensure that no illegal activity took place at Dow Jones and Company publications. But we were surprised that the Committee’s statement appears to foreclose any further investigation, despite the fact that the former chief executive officer of Dow Jones and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal served as the top official at News International while illegal phone hacking occurred at its newspapers," the letter reads.
The five-member panel has already dismissed the notion that anything illegal has happened at Dow Jones and downplayed its own authority. "All we can testify to is what has or has not come to our attention," chairman Thomas Bray, the former editorial page editor of the Detroit News, told the Associated Press. "That's our function. We're not a police force."
Since shortly after its founding, the committee has been seen as an entity co-opted by Rupert Murdoch, who moved to neuter it as soon as he'd completed the process of buying Dow Jones from the Bancroft family. Each of the panel's five members are paid $100,000 a year, and they've remained silent even on the issues that are supposed to be their primary focus, such as when a long line of editors, including top editor Marcus Brauchli, left the paper, and when Brauchli was replaced by Robert Thomson, one of Murdoch's best friends.
Even though calling on the Special Committee to do something may be an exercise in futility, it does provide some political cover for senators like Boxer and Rockefeller, whose base sees Murdoch as the Darth Vader of media. A Hill staffer told Adweek that further action by the senators will depend on the answers they get back forom the committee.