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Times suggests Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch bought off top US senator
John Byrne
Published: Sunday June 24, 2007
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The New York Times plans "a look at how Rupert Murdoch has used his media empire to advance his personal and political agendas" in Monday's editions, a source familiar with the paper's planning tells RAW STORY.

The piece opens with the suggestion that Murdoch staved off legislation that could strangle his US business interest by buying off a senator.

"Congress was on the verge of limiting any company from owning local television stations that reached more than 35 percent of American homes. Mr. Murdoch’s Fox stations reached nearly 39 percent, meaning he would have to sell some," the Times reporters write. "In a late-night meeting just before Thanksgiving of 2003, Congressional leaders agreed to raise the limit — to 39 percent."

Sen. Trent Lott had opposed raising the limit.

"But in the end, he, too, agreed to the compromise," reports the Times. "It turns out he had a business connection to Mr. Murdoch. Months before, HarperCollins, Mr. Murdoch’s publishing house, had signed a $250,000 book deal to publish Mr. Lott’s memoir, 'Herding Cats,' records and interviews show."

The story is a fascinating one for New York's newspaper of record. As a massive investigative piece written by some of the Times' finest reporters and organized by the Times Managing Editor herself -- Jill Abramson -- it stands to have a major impact on a pending deal between Murdoch and the Times' New York competitor he is seeking to buy, The Wall Street Journal.

Also Monday, the Times reported that the family that controls the Wall Street Journal is close to agreeing on terms "designed to protect The Wall Street Journal’s newsroom independence if the company accepts a takeover bid from Mr. Murdoch."

The reporters note -- as if in warning -- "The sale would give Mr. Murdoch control of the pre-eminent journalistic authority on the world in which he is an active, aggressive participant. What worries his critics is that Mr. Murdoch will use The Journal, which has won many Pulitzer Prizes and has a sterling reputation for accuracy and fairness, as yet another tool to further his myriad financial and political agendas."

“It is hard to imagine Rupert Murdoch publishing The New York Post in Midtown Manhattan, with all of his personal and political biases and business interests reflected every day, while publishing The Wall Street Journal in Downtown Manhattan with no interference whatsoever,” former director of Dow Jones James Ottaway Jr. is quoted as saying.

While he is a scratching post of the left for his ownership of Fox News Channel and the conservative New York Post, the Times notes that Murdoch often bends to the political winds to suit his business interests. He held two fundraisers this month for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading Democratic candidate for president.

The paper traces Murdoch's rise alongside other more liberal politicians, including liberal lion Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"An analysis of campaign finance records shows that since 1997, Republicans have received only a slight majority — 56 percent — of the $4.76 million in campaign donations from the Murdoch family and the News Corporation’s political action committees and employees," the article says. "Since Democrats won control of Congress in the 2006 elections, the company and its employees have given more than twice as much to Democrats."

The Times' article also captures Murdoch's apparent assault on the Nielsen rating system, which in 2004 considering changing their methodology. Early trials showed Murdoch losing a huge ratings share if the new system went through.

Murdoch's empire went on the assault, the Times says.

News Corporation turned to Republican allies in Congress. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who recently lost a reelection campaign over his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, introduced legislation threatening Nielsen with government oversight.

"Political contributions flowed to nearly all the legislation’s supporters," notes the Times. "In 2005, the year the legislation was introduced, records show that the bill’s 29 sponsors and co-sponsors together received at least $144,650 in donations from the News Corporation’s political action committees and lobbyists."

Ultimately, Murdoch won a mixed victory -- Nielsen held off changing the system for several months in the top three media markets, allowing News Corporation to keep their higher advertising rates in place.

The article also assails a moment during the Clinton Administration when Murdoch allegedly told an FCC commissioner he would not be able to “get a job as dog-catcher” if the FCC took away a News Corporation license as the result of a dispute.

In the end, the FCC caved.

The Times notes other payouts by Murdoch's publishing arm to major politicians -- $4.5 million to Newt Gingrich, $25,000 to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), $142,000 to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) -- all of whom sit on the Commerce or Judiciary Committees overseeing the media business.

Still, the paper leaves the door open for Murdoch.

A former HarperCollins executive told the Times, “It’s not done in a direct way where he issues instructions. It’s a bunch of people running around trying to please him.”

Read the full Times article here.