In the wake of controversy surrounding the fall of former Fox News boss Roger Ailes, a new report has revealed that the culture of gathering phone records within News Corp may have gone deeper than originally believed.
A report published in New York Magazine today alleges that TV news channel Fox News—formerly part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp—endeavored to obtain the personal phone records of a journalist at around the same time that now-defunct UK tabloid News of the World was allegedly hacking phones. (Fox News was spun off into 21st Century Fox, also controlled by Murdoch, in 2013.)
Fox general counsel Dianne Brandi reportedly hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the personal home and mobile records of reporter Joe Strupp at liberal watchdog site Media Matters, the magazine reported, citing two anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the incident. The network was allegedly trying to uncover the identities of several anonymous Fox sources who were quoted in Strupp’s articles.
Media Matters president Bradley Beychok has called for an investigation into the matter and said the organization is “considering all legal options.”
News Corp was previously embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal that shuttered News of the World in 2011. Journalists at the UK tabloid were accused of hacking the phones of hundred of people throughout the 2000s, including celebrities, politicians, and the phone of a missing girl.
“This was the culture,” an anonymous Fox executive reportedly said of trying to access Strupp’s records. “Getting phone records doesn’t make anybody blink.” Brandi denied hiring the investigator to obtain Strupp’s phone records to New York magazine through a spokesperson; a Fox spokesperson referred Quartz to Brandi’s denial when asked about the report.
If true, the practice is morally questionable and possibly against federal law. In 2007, after Hewlett-Packard obtained journalists’ and board members’ personal phone records during an investigation, then-US president George W. Bush passed a law that made “pretexting”—the act of obtaining personal telephone records through misrepresentation, impersonation, or deception—a federal crime.
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who is suing Ailes for sexual harassment, reportedly installed anti-spyware software on her electronic devices, as did her law firm Smith Mullin, to prevent Fox from surveilling them.
According to the story, which cited an anonymous Fox source, Fox contributor and former detective Bo Dietl also conducted private investigations for Ailes. At one time, he allegedly followed Fox producer Andrea Mackris, after she sued Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment.
This story has been updated to reflect that Fox News did not deny the New York magazine report itself, it was denied by Fox general counsel Dianne Brandi.