The explosive allegations about widespread illegal voicemail hacking by British tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch are getting very little coverage on Murdoch’s Fox News Channel (TVNewser, 7/12/11). But Fox‘s top host took a very different view when a Republican politician’s email account was hacked, calling for the prosecution of the website that published the emails.
When Sarah Palin’s email account was hacked during the 2008 presidential campaign, Fox host Bill O’Reilly was outraged that anyone could publish such material. On September 17, 2008, O’Reilly said:
Now, it is a felony, a federal crime, also a state crime in Alaska to hack into people’s private correspondence. And what I want to know–and I’m not going to mention the website that posted this, but it’s one of those despicable, slimy, scummy websites that in a free society we have to tolerate, but I’d like to see the website prosecuted, arrested, put in cuffs, all the people who run it.
Look, we know, everybody knows, the Feds know, the state authorities in Alaska know, everybody knows where the stuff is, OK? And they know the people who run the website. So why can’t they go there tonight, to the guy’s house who runs it, put him in cuffs, and take him down and book him?
The following night (9/18/08), O’Reilly interviewed Fox legal pundit Megyn Kelly, and expressed outrage at the idea that a news outlet could evade prosecution.
O’REILLY: Well, that surprises me, because they’re trafficking in stolen merchandise.
KELLY: They are.
O’REILLY: This information was stolen. It’s just like anything else. You steal somebody’s car, and you give it to a fence to sell or a chop shop to chop it up. They’ve got stolen merchandise. They get charged.
KELLY: You would think that, but it’s different here, Bill, because it’s the First Amendment, Bill. It is the freedom of the press.
KELLY: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
O’REILLY: Stolen–no, it’s like mail. It’s like mail. It’s email.
KELLY: It’s not, it’s not.
O’REILLY: But it is.
KELLY: Let me tell you, the Supreme Court has said that when a news organization — and like it or not, this website qualifies — obtains information that is newsworthy, even if….
O’REILLY: Not if you steal the letter…
KELLY: Let me finish.
O’REILLY: See, I know what the Supreme Court says. I’m trying to get it across to you that this is wrong.
KELLY: If it’s newsworthy and you get it, even if you know it’s stolen, you can publish it, as long as you didn’t have dirty hands in actually obtaining information. You didn’t help hack.
O’REILLY: But that is ridiculous, because if you go to somebody’s mailbox, and you take out their mail, and it has something newsworthy, and you give it to somebody, you’re charged with tampering with the U.S. mail. It’s a crime. There’s no difference between taking a person’s letter out of their mailbox and taking somebody’s e-mail off their Internet sites.
KELLY: I agree.
O’REILLY: So the law doesn’t make sense.
What doesn’t make sense, actually, is why O’Reilly gets so exercised about a news outlet publishing illegally obtained information when he lets similar activity by the corporation he works for pass without notice.