Hit Piece on Rupert Murdoch Fizzles

"What worries his critics is that Mr. Murdoch will use The Journal...as yet another tool to further his myriad financial and political agendas." Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would never do anything like this with his paper, would he?

The big expose hyped on Drudge over the weekend on Rupert Murdoch, media mogul (and worst from the Times' perspective, the creator of Fox News) appeared on Monday's front-page in the off-lead position. The Times put four bylines on the beat for its attempted hit piece: Jo Becker was the lead writer, with help from media reporter Richard Siklos, Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner, for "An Empire Builder, Still Playing Tough."

What's they find? Not much new, but at least presented with that special, hostile Times' spin.

"His 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, interviews and government records show.

"Mr. Murdoch may be best known in the this country as the man who created Fox News as a counterweight to what he saw as a liberal bias in the news media. But he has often set aside his conservative ideology in pursuit of his business interests. In recent years, he has spread campaign contributions across both sides of the political aisle and nurtured relationships with the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton."

On Murdoch's proposal to buy the Wall Street Journal from theBancroft family,the Times sniffed:

"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."

New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., of course, had no political agenda when he told graduates of the State University of New York at New Paltz last year that "You weren't supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life; the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain. You weren't. But you are. And for that I'm sorry."

More from the Times' "expose" of Murdoch: "The American newspaper industry has never seen a publisher quite like him. Mr. Murdoch has long been a pivotal figure in England and Australia, and in the dozen years since he has moved his base of operations to this country, he has insinuated himself into the political and financial fabric of the United States. His businesses have thrived in a highly regulated environment in part because of his remarkable ability to mold the rules to fit his needs."

And of course the New York Times Co., with 2006 revenue of $3.3 billion, and ownership of over a dozen other newspapers and 30 websites, has no "financial agenda" at all.

Or perhaps it does. Here's what Matt Welch wrote in the October 2005 issue of Reason magazine regarding the Times Co.'s dubious purchase of the property that now marks its new headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on 8th Avenue and 41st Street: "The Times and [developer Bruce] Ratner, who never bothered making an offer to the property owners, bought the Port Authority-adjacent property at a steep discount ($85 million) from a state agency that seized the 11 buildings on it; should legal settlements with the original tenants exceed that amount, taxpayers will have to make up the difference. On top of that gift, the city and state offered the Times $26 million in tax breaks for the project, and Ratner even lobbied to receive $400 million worth of U.S. Treasury-backed Liberty Bonds - instruments created by Congress to help rebuild Lower Manhattan. Which is four miles away."

Back to the Times on Murdoch: "This became clear in the regulatory fight over media ownership, a battle critical to Mr. Murdoch's audacious creation of a fourth national television network, Fox. He has also turned his political clout on business rivals, as he did when he mounted a campaign recently against the Nielsen television rating agency."

And is the Times trying to suggest Murdoch is trying to buy influence by listing the books by politicians his publishing house HarperCollins puts out?

"One leader of the Congressional movement to limit [nedua company] ownership was SenatorTrent Lott,Republican of Mississippi. But in the end, he, too, agreed to the compromise. 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.

"An aide to Mr. Lott said the book deal had no bearing on the senator's decision, and a spokesman for Mr. Murdoch chalked it up to coincidence. Still, the ownership fight showcases the confluence of business, political and media prowess that is central to the way Mr. Murdoch has built his global information conglomerate."

The Times returned near the end to cast aspersions: "[Trent] Lott's book sold 12,000 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of all domestic retail and Internet sales. Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, received $24,506 from HarperCollins for his modest-selling book 'Passion for Truth,' according to financial disclosure forms. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, got $141,666 for her book 'American Heroines,' which has sold better. All sit on either the Commerce or Judiciary Committees that most closely oversee the media business.

"HarperCollins has also given book deals to Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, and a $1 million advance to Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, both of whose books are due out next year."

The paper has already editorialized earlier this month against Murdoch's potential purchase of the Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family.