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The cash question: Murdoch, Fox and the GOP

Rupert Murdoch, who has never been shy about making his political views known, has voted with his sizable checkbook.

Murdoch's News Corp. has made a $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association, triggering swift criticism from Democrats that a contribution of that magnitude casts a shadow on his media properties, particularly Fox News.

"For a media company -- particularly one whose slogan is 'fair and balanced' -- to be injecting themselves into the outcome of races is stunning," Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, said Tuesday. "The people owning Fox News have made a decision that they want to see Democratic governors go down to defeat. It's a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm."

Jack Horner, a spokesman for News Corp., said in an interview: "It's patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties."

News Corp., which also owns the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Times of London, said in a statement that the company "believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA's pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy." Two RGA spokesmen did not return messages.

It is hardly unusual for media companies to support candidates and political parties. General Electric, which owns NBC, has given $245,000 to the Democratic governors and $205,000 to the Republican governors since last year.

Disney, which owns ABC, donated $20,000 to committees associated with Republicans and $11,000 to Democratic committees. CBS gave $13,000 to Democratic PACs and $1,000 to Republican ones.

Asked whether such donations raise questions about other networks' coverage, Daschle said: "The Fox contribution is in a completely different league. Other media firms' donations are generally small and about equal to the many committees that receive money." His group spent Tuesday trying to drum up interest in the issue, unsuccessfully pitching a dozen Fox producers and hosts to get Daschle booked on the channel.

And the group rushed out a fundraising letter assailing what it called Murdoch's effort to help "put wild-eyed Tea Party candidates in charge of our states and Congressional redistricting" and asking potential donors to "make News Corp. regret this decision."

Fox News said in a statement: "We understand Nathan's desire to get face time on the most watched news network. And when he can offer insight on a legitimate news story instead of concocting a dishonest publicity stunt, we will consider having him on as a guest."

General Electric spokesman Gary Sheffer, asked whether the donations affect news coverage, said: "GE does not get involved in the editorial decisions of NBC News."

The $1 million donation by News Corp., made in June and first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, is among the largest contributions to the GOP governors in this campaign cycle. The Republican group, headed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a possible presidential candidate in 2012, has raised $58 million in the past year and a half, compared with $40 million for the Democratic group. Thirty-seven governorships are up for election this fall.

Until now, the News Corp./Fox political action committee had given 54 percent of its donations to Democrats and 46 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- including $8,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid's campaign committee and $5,000 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's organization. News Corp. also gave $45,000 each to GOP and Democratic campaign committees on Capitol Hill.

A seven-figure donation is not a first for Murdoch; he gave $1 million to the California Republican Party in 1996.

"The way the rules are written, he is playing by the rules," says Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of communication at Boston University. "This just reinforces for liberals how evil and manipulative Fox and Rupert Murdoch are. For the civilians out there, I don't think they're going to see this as particularly relevant or particularly important."

Fox News, the home of such hosts as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, has long been at odds with the Democratic Party. During the 2008 campaign, Murdoch and Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes held a secret meeting with candidate Barack Obama in an effort to clear the air. "I wanted him to understand that we're a real journalism organization and we're going to cover what's there. We're not out to get him," Ailes said in a subsequent interview.

But the relationship blew up last year. The White House refused for months to make top officials available for interviews and assailed Fox as an arm of the Republican Party -- an attack that was revived Tuesday.

"Any pretense that may have existed about the ties between Fox News and the Republican Party has been ripped violently away," said Hari Sevugan, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Any Republican that appears on Fox should now have a disclaimer that they are financially supported by the network and any coverage of the elections this fall on Fox should be reported with disclaimer for what it is -- partisan propaganda."

An outspoken conservative, the Australian-born Murdoch has nonetheless sought accommodations over the years with political rivals, including Tony Blair when he was British prime minister and Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was a senator from New York. Asked at a forum in April about Fox's heavy coverage of the "tea party" movement, Murdoch said: "I don't think we should be supporting the tea party or any other party."

Blago's split decision

It seems incredible that we could be going through a retrial. But prosecutors say they're going to try again after Rod Blagojevich was convicted on just one count of lying, with the Chicago jury hung on the other counts.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich says she's not surprised:

"Five weeks of arguments and testimony. Fourteen days of deliberations. And at the end of all that, a jury of six men and six women couldn't unanimously agree that the prosecutors made the case.

"He lied to the FBI? On that, they could concur. But corruption?

"Money wasn't shown to change hands. Explicit deals weren't caught on wiretap. The former allies who testified for the prosecution could be suspected of selfish motives. Key players never took the stand. . . .

"Blagojevich was such a weak governor -- vain, lazy, grandstanding, ineffectual -- that it has been easy for the public to conclude prematurely that he was a corrupt one."

The Chicago Sun-Times describes "heated arguments" in the jury room:

" 'Some people came in headhunting,' said juror Erik Sarnello, 21. 'One person said, "I want [Blagojevich's] head on a plate." By the end, everybody was kind of logical.''

"After 14 days in the jury room, the six men and six women finally acknowledged Monday they would be able to reach a unanimous verdict on only one of the 24 counts. While some votes were split 7-5, 6-6 or 9-3, the most explosive of the charges -- that Blagojevich tried to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat -- came down to a single holdout vote, jurors said.

"That one holdout -- a woman whom her colleagues declined to single out -- felt she had not gotten the 'clear-cut evidence' she needed to convict, Sarnello said. 'Say it was a murder trial -- she wanted the video,' Sarnello said. 'She wanted to hear [Blagojevich] say, "I'll give you this for that." . . . For some people, it was clear. Some people heard that. But for some, it wasn't clear.' ''

Mosque mess

The proposed Islamic cultural center is still the hottest story around, and Roger Simon sees it as an example of political malpractice by Obama:

"Honest to goodness, the man just does not get it. He might be forced to pull a Palin and resign before his first term is over. He could go off and write his memoirs and build his presidential library. (Both would be half-size, of course.)

"I am not saying Obama is not smart; he is as smart as a whip. I am just saying he does not understand what savvy first-term presidents need to understand: You have to stay on message, follow the polls, listen to your advisers (who are writing the message and taking the polls) and realize that when it comes to doing what is right versus doing what is expedient, you do what is expedient so that you can get reelected and do what is right in the second term. If at all possible. And it will help your legacy. And not endanger the election of others in your party. And not hurt the brand. Or upset people too much."

Simon goes on to suggest that Obama is doing the right thing, constitutionally speaking, but it's still bad politics.

At Commentary, former Bush aide Pete Wehner questions why Simon didn't include the president's qualifying comments -- and invokes a phrase from his days in the Illinois legislature:

"It turns out Obama's gutsy, brave, once-in-a-generation-act-of-political-courage lasted less than 24 hours. Having seen the criticism his comments on Friday elicited, Obama ran for the hills on Saturday. He's now voting 'present' on the mosque issue. Yet Mr. Simon takes none of that into account in his column. Did he not know about Obama's backtracking? Or did it just not matter to him? Perhaps because it was so at odds with his heroic image of Obama, Simon simply could not process it.

"For those who are enraptured by this president, these cannot be easy days. They are now at the point where, in order to praise him, they have to overlook reality."

The right is feasting on this one. Rich Lowry sees POTUS as Slick Barry:

"Obama managed to stake a brave stand on a principle no one seriously contests -- the legal right to build the mosque -- while voting 'present' on the question that matters: whether they should or not. This is high-toned dodginess, insipidity masquerading as incisiveness.

"Obama's weekend meanderings had the clarifying effect of separating the question of legality from considerations of prudence and advisability. If the president, whose tolerance for minorities is beyond reproach, can pointedly decline to endorse the wisdom of the project, why are all the critics beyond the pale? Especially now that the second-most-powerful Democrat in the country, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has joined them?"

Atlantic's Marc Ambinder poses a question for both parties:

"From an ethical standpoint, which is worse: Are Republicans demagoguing the issue or are Democrats trying to stay silent because they're afraid to engage?

"No one, except for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is openly worried about anti-Muslim prejudice being openly practiced, sanctioned, and endorsed by people running for and in high office. Tonally, this one guy seems to get this issue just right:

"My principles on this are two-fold. One, that we have to acknowledge, respect and give some measure of deference to the feelings of the family members who lost their loved ones there that day. But it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans. But beyond that . . . I am not going to get into it, because I would be guilty of candidly what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now, the president is guilty of, of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it."

But Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum isn't buying, arguing that the governor is ducking:

"Spare me. Republicans, and the right more generally, have spent weeks demonizing the proposed mosque. They've painted it as treacherous, insensitive, and a menace to American values. Fox News has been running the outrage machine 24/7. A-list pundits and top elected officials have joined in. But when, finally, Barack Obama steps in with a modest statement of support for religious freedom, both parties are now equally inclined to demagoguery? Give me a break.

"As for Christie himself, will he take even a modest stand for tolerance? Goodness no. Then he'd be playing politics. He's merely an observer, you see."

Glenn Beck's locale

Greta Van Susteren blogs about her Fox News colleague and his plan to hold a Lincoln Memorial rally on the Aug. 28 anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech:

"The event is causing much controversy . . . some support and some don't support and some are even furious and upset. Yes he has a First Amendment right to do it . . . but what about the wisdom of it?"

That sounds familiar, and Greta circles back to Topic A:

"Remember . . . the Muslims in NYC have a First Amendment right to build a mosque but most Americans don't want it . . . and you have to ask the wisdom of the Muslims to push the issue. Just because you have the right to do something does not mean you should. My view? No mosque at ground zero and Glenn should move his event.

"It does not help heal the country on so many fronts if we poke a stick in eyes."

Interesting. But isn't stick-poking the basis for many cable news shows?

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

By Howard Kurtz  |  August 18, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Latest stories  | Tags: GOP, Glenn Beck, News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, mosque  
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