Over the last few days, many people -- myself included -- have asked variations of this question: Will the Rupert Murdoch/News of the World phone hacking scandal, which some are calling Britian's Watergate, reach us here in America, where the modern-day Citizen Kane's holdings including the Fox TV and movie empire as well as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
The answer may be yes: A report in a rival British tabloid the Daily Mirror makes an allegation that, if proven true, many Americans will find just as revolting as the phone hacking of 13-year-old morder victim Milly Dowler, maybe even more so.
Did Murdoch's London-based News of the World contact a New York City private investigator about phone hacking American victims of the 9/11 attacks?
The pair chatted behind closed doors as a former New York cop made the 9/11 hacking claim. He alleged he was contacted by News of the World journalists who said they would pay him to retrieve the private phone records of the dead.
Now working as a private investigator, the ex-officer claimed reporters wanted the victim’s phone numbers and details of the calls they had made and received in the days leading up to the atrocity.
A source said: “This investigator is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims’ private phone data. He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their relatives.
“His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look."
Indeed. That said, this article raises more questions than it answers, and I would note a couple of major caveats. One, the story is pretty thinly sourced, as we say in the business. Two, the Mirror is a non-Murdoch-owned British tabloid driven by the same kind of competitive pressures that led to this whole scandal in the first place.
But I think the significance is this: Given the scandal in the UK, the American activities of Murdoch-controlled journalists -- at both his British publications and his U.S. emterprises -- deserve closer scrutiny, including from law enforcement. Maybe Murdoch's journalists' alleged illegal activities stopped at the far shores of the Atlantic, but we should find out for sure.