As Rupert Murdoch nears his goal of acquiring Dow Jones, concerns mount over the influence he will be able to exercise over the company’s flagship publication, the Wall Street Journal.
The New York Times has reported that the Bancroft Family, which controls Dow Jones, has sought “elaborate assurances” that the Journal‘s news coverage will remain independent. No mean feat, considering Murdoch’s past and present media ownership regimes, and the considerable financial and political clout he now enjoys in his adopted homeland.
According to the NYT, Murdoch’s “vast media holdings give him a gamut of tools — not just campaign contributions, but also jobs for former government officials and media exposure that promotes allies while attacking adversaries, sometimes viciously — all of which he has used to further his financial interests and establish his legitimacy in the United States.”
The expose outlines Murdoch’s — and News Corporation’s — history of establishing influence through political associations, aggressive lobbying and media standover tactics.
The NYT says of Murdoch that the “American newspaper industry has never seen a publisher quite like him.” Briefs from the report show why:
- The report says that while Murdoch is a known purveyor of conservative journalism, he does not allow his personal politics to get in the way of his bottom line. This was evident in Britain when, in 1997, major News Corporation papers endorsed Tony Blair for Prime Minister, and is a pattern that is being repeated in the US. The NY Times reports that since Democrats won control of Congress in the 2006 elections, News Corporation has given more than twice as much to Democrats as to Republicans.
- Peggy Binzel, Murdoch’s former chief in-house lobbyist, told the NY Times: “You need to be able to tell your story to both sides to be effective. And that’s what political giving is about.”
- The report calls News Corporation’s outside lobbying team a “veritable political Noah’s ark”, and highlights Murdoch’s relationship with the Clintons as “perhaps the best example of his ever-morphing relationships with the powerful, and theirs with him.” Former President Bill Clinton was once a favourite target of News Corporation’s New York Post. Earlier this month, Gary L Ginsberg and Peter A Chernin, president and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, were hosts of back-to-back fund-raisers for Mrs Clinton’s presidential campaign.
- In 2004, a new TV ratings system about to be implemented by Nielsen Media Research showed sharp rating drops for shows aired on stations owned by News Corporation. With millions of dollars in advertising revenue at stake, Murdoch went on the attack. Republican allies were called in to pressure Nielsen, introducing legislation that threatened Nielsen with government oversight. According to 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.”
- Political influence was also at the forefront of Murdoch’s battles against laws regulating media ownership. The NY Times says that, “for much of the last two decades, Mr Murdoch has chafed against (the media ownership) restrictions, winning exceptions and easing regulations.”
- Book deals of News Corporation-owned HarperCollins are also highlighted in the NY Times report as drawing scrutiny due to Murdoch’s wide business interests. Among these are a $4.5 million book contract given to former Speaker Newt Gingrich at a time when Congress was preparing to redraw media ownership rules.
- Now, Murdoch is after the Wall Street Journal, an acquisition the NY Times say he has always lusted over. A fly in the media mogul’s ointment has flown in, however, in the form of Brad Greenspan, the former chief executive of MySpace whose feud with Murdoch dates from News Corporation’s acquisition of the social networking site.