A second look: CEO of media giant who sought to gag reporters has deep political pockets
Chairman and chief executive of media juggernaut Time Warner Richard Parsons, who barred a conversation with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from being on the record, cut a massive $25,000 check to the Republican National Committee in 2004, and according to Newsmeat.com has given $219,750 to Republican candidates and just $22,000 to Democrats.
Parsons tried to impose a "gag order" on a public interview of Scalia conducted by Norman Pearlstein, Time's editor in chief, Nov. 21. Time Magazine is the publication's flagship national newsweekly.
Various publications, including the New York Daily News, flouted the order; the News' Lloyd Grove poked at the gag by presenting Scalia's comments as hypothetical remarks -- thereby not actually violating the off-the-record agreement.
The media has paid little attention to Parsons donations. Jack Shafer, a media critic for Slate, raised concern at Parsons' move but did not attempt an explanation.
"What possessed Time Warner--whose choice subsidiaries are in the business of getting Washington's most powerful minds on the record--to stage this farce?" Shafer wrote.
"For whose benefit was the interview conducted? Obviously not for reporters, who were barred from divulging its contents. As one in a series of talks that included Pearlstine interviews with Karl Rove and Bill Clinton, was the primary aim to increase Time magazine's 'buzz'?"
"What businessmen were invited, and why? How many were advertisers or potential advertisers, whom Time Warner wanted to impress by arranging a private recital by one of Washington's hottest tickets?"
According to Fortune Magazine, Parsons once dreamed of being appointed to the Supreme Court ("This Brooklyn-born lawyer once dreamed of being on the Supreme Court," Fortune wrote).
"I always knew I'd rise to the top; it never occurred to me I couldn't," he said.
Parsons is often credited with reviving the fortunes of Time Warner after its less-than-smooth merger with America Online.
Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco-based blogger who regularly takes media figures to task for purporting to be unbiased while making campaign contributions on his blog (mpetrelis.blogspot.com, believes Parsons' donations and his decision to gag journalists from reporting on Time's Scalia interview are linked.
"Any man or woman in the press business who can write a check for $25,000 to the Republican National Committee, like Parsons did," Petrelis claims, "On top of the $4,000 he contributed to Bush--$2,000 in 2000 and again in 2004--has a political agenda."
Though his overall totals suggest otherwise, Parsons has given to various Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), over the years. While he gave only to Bush during the last presidential election ($4,000), he also gave $2,000 to Sen. Kerry's 1996 Senate race. He gave money to President Clinton, though he lined the pockets of Sen. Hillary Clinton's Republican challenger, Rick Lazio. Regardless, he gave nearly ten times as much to Republicans as he did to Democrats.
Originally published on Wednesday November 30, 2005