Apparently, Department of Justice officials think the allegations against NewsCorp are light on facts, but have decided to open a file on them anyway because of pressure from lawmakers–pressure which apparently didn’t convince the DOJ to investigate the ACORN scandal, 2008 voter intimidation claims, and other incidents that might have been damaging to the Obama administration.
Time Magazine’s Massimo Calabresi spoke with FBI officials, who seemed to concede allegations that News of the World reporters hacked into the phones of 9/11 victims are tissue-thin. The 9/11 claims were first published by the Mirror, a British tabloid, and they’re based on the second-hand account of an anonymous source, who supposedly got the information from an unknown private investigator from New York.
Here’s what the FBI investigation will entail, according to Calabresi:
Here is my understanding, from conversations with officials from various parts of the Justice Department, of what is going on: None of my sources would speak for attribution since the investigation hasn’t begun yet and the political atmosphere is so charged. The FBI has opened a file and will look into whether or not the allegations warrant an actual investigation. That means finding out if there is anything to substantiate the charges in the Mirror‘s article. That, in turn, means trying to find this supposed former New York cop-turned private investigator who supposedly told a source who supposedly told the Mirror that the News of the World once asked him to get 9/11 victims’ phone records. The FBI can then ask this PI all about what the News Of The World asked him to do, and can then see if they actually did it. The FBI can also contact families of the victims of 9/11 and ask them if they have any reason to believe they may have been hacked.
If the allegations are really as baseless as law enforcement seems to believe, then they should fall apart under the tiniest scrutiny – which could make an investigation a good thing for NewsCorp. Many politicians – especially Democrats – have acted as if there’s a strong case against the media empire, and that could start to damage its reputation in the U.S. But as Calabresi points out, there’s really nothing substantial here yet. The lack of named sources makes it hard to place a lot of trust in the Mirror’s article, and the British tabloid press isn’t exactly known for its accuracy.