- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

President Obama is targeting critics in the media. As his poll numbers continue to decline and his re-election chances grow dimmer by the day, he is increasingly resorting to authoritarian tactics. His latest

move: The Justice Department is preparing subpoenas as part of a preliminary investigation into News Corp.

The New York-based company, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. In other words, News Corp.’s key properties are some of the most prominent and outspoken anti-Obama media outlets. Unlike the liberal press corps, these organizations actually seek to hold Mr. Obama accountable - especially for his reckless spending and record deficits. They constantly remind Americans that the administration’s policies have failed and have deepened the economic crisis.

The administration - dominated by Chicago-style political thugs - is cynically striking back. The Justice Department is using the unfolding media scandal in Britain as a smokescreen to attack News Corp. What does a phone-hacking scandal across the Atlantic have to do with the U.S. media? Nothing, unless you’re a liberal ideologue hoping to smear and discredit Fox News and other powerful anti-Obama organs.

News of the World, a now-defunct weekly British tabloid, apparently had journalists who hacked into people’s voice mails in order to get explosive scoops - including that of the family of a murdered 13-year-old girl. Moreover, there are allegations that police officers were bribed to enable this phone-hacking to go on. If true, it is shocking, highly unethical and the guilty should be fully prosecuted. Yet, the Obama administration is now using a scandal that has so far affected only one newspaper in the British division - a tiny fiefdom of Mr. Murdoch’s much-larger empire - to attempt to bully and discredit its domestic media critics.

Senior Justice Department officials are probing whether the bribes to British police violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Moreover, they are also interested in investigating whether News Corp. employees attempted to hack into voice mails of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In other words, did News Corp.’s U.S. division imitate the illegal practices allegedly prevalent at News of the World?

This investigation is baseless. The FCPA has almost always been used to prosecute companies that bribe foreign officials to get lucrative contracts. Moreover, there is not a scintilla of evidence that News Corp.’s U.S. employees were involved in any bribing. Hence, the Obama administration is deliberately expanding the scope and reach of the FCPA; they are on a fishing expedition. The Justice Department is looking for a convenient excuse - a cheap rationale - to dig into News Corp.’s books. It is not really interested in discovering whether illegal payments were made to crooked British cops; rather, it wants to probe Mr. Murdoch’s intimate accounting details in the hopes of finding some potential financial malfeasance. This is a politicized retaliatory audit masquerading as an FCPA inquiry.

Furthermore, the allegations about the hacking of Sept. 11 victims are even more risible. The basis for the administration’s probe is one - I repeat one - anonymous, unsubstantiated quote in a British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, in which the person only speculated about whether the families’ voice mails were also targeted. From this, the Justice Department wants to examine the actions of nearly 2,000 News Corp. employees.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is on a witch hunt. He is seeking to intimidate and smear some of the administration’s most articulate opponents. Mr. Holder’s investigation represents a direct assault upon basic press freedoms. It aims to expand the government’s involvement in how journalists operate, attempting to probe the practices of media outlets - especially those that refuse to mouth the administration’s radical liberalism.

Fox News has long been a thorn in Mr. Obama’s side. With his re-election in doubt and public discontent growing, he wants to smash his main media rival. This is no longer about a faraway British tabloid scandal; it is about an out-of-control administration obsessed with retaining its grip on power.

Mr. Obama’s impulses are those of an authoritarian socialist. He has publicly demonized Fox News, referring to it as “an illegitimate” media organization. He has called for the Fairness Doctrine to be imposed, which would muzzle conservative talk radio. He wants to create a national civilian police corps answerable to the president. He is waging an illegal and unconstitutional war in Libya. He has appointed countless policy “czars” who possess vast Cabinet-level powers without the Senate’s advice and consent. He has seized and nationalized vast sectors of the economy. He has threatened to raise the country’s debt-ceiling limit without congressional authorization - a reckless, unilateral act that would be clearly grounds for impeachment. And now he is looking to expand the government’s control over the media.

Mr. Obama likes to compare himself to liberal icons such as Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. Lately, he is even making allusions to Abraham Lincoln - the savior of the nation. But the real parallel is a very different one: President Richard Nixon. Mr. Obama’s approach to the law, to the media and to his opponents is Nixonian - a flagrant and contemptuous disregard for the Constitution. Mr. Obama embodies a perverse mix of Saul Alinsky and Nixon, one a rabid leftist activist and the other a political street thug. News Corp. is simply his next victim unless a public outcry stops him.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.

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