When news broke in August that News Corporation, the media conglomerate owned by Rupert Murdoch, had donated a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association, liberals howled that Murdoch's personal political views - reflected in that donation - compromised the neutrality of News Corp's subsidiaries. The same arguments are being offered today, as news emerges that Murdoch's company gave another million to the Chamber of Commerce.
But Murdoch testified before a congressional subcommittee on Thursday in support of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Almost immediately, the left began asking why Murdoch had not incorporated his own views on the issue into Fox News's programming.
So now that liberals may have some common ground with Murdoch on the immigration issue, they are pleading for him to do exactly what they criticized when it benefitted Republicans: inject his own personal political views into reporting by News Corp. outlets.
That position was best channeled by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who had the following exchange with Murdoch yesterday (video via Mediaite):
Mr. Murdoch, both you and Mr. Bloomberg have the possibility of doing a lot of education, you're very powerful with your media networks, and you're able to disseminate a lot of info and to frame issues. And to Mr. Murdoch, it does not appear that what you are talking to us about today and the way that you are discussing it, is the way that it is discussed on Fox, for example.
Why are you here with a basically a decent proposal taking about the advantage immigrants to our economy but I don't see that being promoted on Fox. As a matter of fact, I'm often times stunned by what I hear on Fox, particularly when you have hosts talking about "Anchor Babies" and all of that. Explain to me, what's the difference in your being here and and what you do not do with your media networks?....
I'm very grateful that you guys are here and what you're saying, but I'm trying to point out the contradiction between Mr. Murdoch being here, saying these vital things about immigration reform and the contribution that immigrants make to our economy and our society, and I don't see you promoting that in any way with all the power and ability that you have to do that, and I'm trying to find out, what is the difference? What is the contradiction? Why don't you use your power to help us to promote what you're talking about?
In sum, Waters was pleading with Murdoch to dismantle the wall of separation between News Corp's corporate arms - and his own personal views - and the reporting operations of News Corp's news entities.
Or, as Gawker's Jim Newell put it, "Sounds good, kangaroo man! Why not explain this to your Fox News?"
Isn't this exactly what liberals criticized Murdoch for mere weeks ago, and again today? Well, there is one key difference: Waters and her ilk want Murdoch to openly steer the content of Fox and other News Corp reporting operations. Unlike the hypothetical "education" campaign Waters's proposed, News Corp's political activities have no demonstrable effect on the company's news subsidiaries - no one has been able to point to any instance of such interplay.
(Fox differs from competitor MSNBC in that regard. The latter cable channel, and its sister channels on cable and network TV, have been the subjects of pressure from executives at General ELectric, their parent company, according to former employees. Charlie Gasparino, a former CNBC reporter, claimed that GE CEO Jeff Immelt pressured CNBC staff to go easy on President Obama. NewsBusters has documented the immense conflicts between NBC's "green" campaigns and the millions of dollars GE stands to make from environmental policies that benefit from such campaigns.)
Waters is not simply suggesting that News Corp. exert itself in the cause of comprehensive immigration reform (i.e. amnesty). Murdoch is already doing that - that's why he was testifying in the first place.
No, Waters is suggesting that Murdoch discard any appearance of separation between News Corp's political preferences and its media activities, and begin promoting a political cause not only through the activities of the parent company, but by pushing that cause under the guise of news at News Corp's media holdings.
This is the same Maxine Waters who in 2003 said the following to Murdoch at a hearing on media consolidation:
You're also well known for holding highly conservative views, political views. Many media commentators believe that these political views color the news coverage that Fox News Channel provides. Many Americans, including myself, believe that Fox News Channel, when they use the term ''fair and balanced reporting,'' it's really a code word for conservative bias, and that Fox News Channel is an adjunct and a cheerleader for this Administration.
Waters went on to issue a thinly-veiled threat that she and other congressional Democrats would not support News Corp's attempt to acquire DirecTV for purely political reasons.
I understand that you're thinking about expanding your news in this merger. I suppose if I-as I believe, that you promote the views of this Administration and you were a cheerleader for the war-I happen to be a liberal. And why is it in the best interest of people to the left or liberals, or whatever they want to call us, to help you to consolidate in ways that your conservative views will be more and more dominant, we will get shut out? I'm worried that as you go before DOJ, and maybe-I don't know if Mr. Ashcroft is your friend or not-his conservative views will be reflected in your programming. So why should we-why should we support this even though we don't have direct responsibility for approval or disapproval? Maybe some of us should make a hell of a lot more noise than we're making because you're scaring the hell out of me.
So when Fox was supposedly shilling for conservative policies, it was a reflection of Murdoch's conservative political views. And that was a bad thing. In fact, it was enough cause in Waters's mind, to oppose the approval of that merger, simply because Murdoch's political views differed from hers.
But now Waters is pushing for Murdoch to do the exact same thing, but with a policy that she likes, and therefore one for which media outlets can legitimately shill.
The convergence of Murdoch's political activities and Fox's alleged biases was of course a cause of outrage among the left in the context of News Corp's political contributions.
Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, called News Corp's one million dollar donation to the RGA "a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm." Why would the infusion of Murdoch's own views on immigration into Fox's news content be any different?
As John Cook wrote for Yahoo News, Murdoch's discontents claimed the RGA donation was "evidence of an alignment between Murdoch's political and corporate interests and the conservative editorial bent of Fox News Channel." That was presented as an illicit relationship between News Corp's corporate and news divisions, yet critics don't seem to have any issue with Murdoch's views on immigration bleeding into coverage of the issue by Fox or any other News Corp holding.
Objections to the company's political activities were grounded not in demands that Murdoch keep distinctly separate News Corp's political preferences and its news gathering operations. If they were, those same critics would be decrying Waters's request that Fox shift its coverage of the immigration issue to accommodate the political views of the parent's company's CEO.
No, the real issue was simply that News Corp has the wrong political views. Liberals are just fine if Fox pushes its corporate parent's political leanings, so long as those leanings are to the left. They should drop the pretense of concern for the neutrality of News Corp's reporting operations and admit it: their objections are nakedly partisan.