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FOX HOLE--Getting the dirt on Rupert Murdoch
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by Rob Levine

POSTED JUNE 19,1998--I once had a girlfriend who always insisted her first name be given the prefix Sweet as in "Sweet" Susan. As one might expect, her personality was quite the opposite. The insistence on calling her sweet, in hack psychological terms, was an "over-denial" of her real, er, bitchiness, which she must have in some sense suspected. She played out this harmless little charade with virtually everyone she knew. Eventually, those who stayed around long enough figured out her real bent; those who touched her life only peripherally perhaps thought she really was sweet ( she was attractive – something often mistaken for niceness or sweetness in today’s image-crazed society.)

Now it seems the fledgling FOX News Channel (FNC) has adopted a similar strategy. Each day FNC boasts pull_quote.gif (5615 bytes)about its "fairness", with slogans like "We report, you decide" — and a breath later becomes a veritable bullhorn for the Bob Dornan/Steve Forbes continuum of the Republican Party. That FNC has so brazenly adopted this right-wing slant while at the same time shouting loudly about their even-handedness seems like just another nail in the coffin for the credibility of mainstream broadcast news. Indeed, FOX’s high-production values and inclusion of East and West Coast media-cum-celebrities follows the well-worn path blazed by other equally insipid "news" shows from NBC's Dateline and ABC’s 20-20  to the religion-as-news shows like the Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) 700 Club.

But unlike Pat Robertson’s CBN, which rakes in money from gullible home-bound Christians in the form of direct donations and bequests (yes, by some estimates, people have willed him over one billion dollars), FOX’s news shows are bonafide loss leaders, gathering a piddling audience of only 13,000 households daily, even though it has a potential daily audience (via Cable subscriptions) of over 22 million people.

Get a FREE FOX T-ShirtThis concept of owning money-losing news operations has new meaning in late stage capitalism, which is now dominated by six or seven media companies with enormously profitable entertainment divisions. The use of loss leaders to promote political ideology was pioneered by the right-wing Washington Times—the print equivalent of FOX News. Owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the Times has lost over $1 billion in the past decade, yet, alas, is showing absolutely no signs of shutting down. The reason is obvious—by publishing a daily newspaper in Washington D.C. the Moonies have a foothold in creating and shaping US public opinion. Throw in some millions in campaign donations, and you’ve greased two sides of the same wheel. It’s not hard to imagine nefarious consequences of such combinations. Indeed Moon has a long history of meddling in government policy. Way back in the the 1970s, he was tangled up in the Koreagate scandal, in which he and his church were linked to bribing US officials to gain favors for the South Korean government.

Rupert Murdoch, who owns numerous local television stations and newspapers in this country and abroad, is a fitting heir to the Moonie-Method. Murdoch has used his media soapbox to political advantage. Last year he received a huge windfall in the digital-TV spectrum giveaway to the nation’s television broadcasters (valued at up to $70 billion.)

Murdoch’s henchman at FOX, News President Roger Ailes, admits in one of the stories we link to below that making money just isn’t that important to Murdoch ("Viewership is not the only calculation that has meaning," he said.) Ailes, strangely absent in the FOX News barrage of self-promotion (and completely invisible on their web site), cut his "Fairness" teeth as the media adviser for George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, now best remembered for the odious and fear mongering use of the Willie Horton TV spots.  Ailes cobbled together a "news team" from the wreckage of the Bush Administration propaganda machine. When it came time to hire a host for FOX’s inevitable entry into the Sunday Morning Talk Fest (FOX News Sunday), Ailes reached into the second string and picked up Rush Limbaugh substitute host Tony Snow, a cross between his mentor Rush and the velvet-fisted Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Snow was also part of the Bush administration, first working as the president’s chief speechwriter, and later as a media assistant. Rounding out the Fox News Republican Employment Team is managing editor and chief correspondent for FOX's Washington, D.C. bureau Britt Hume. You might remember him as the former tennis partner of George Bush (while he was the White House Correspondent for ABC News.)

Some may argue that this is, in the end, a good thing—that there is no such thing as objectivity, and that news organizations are better when they act as open advocates, when they don't lie about who they are. You might not like them, but at least they don’t try to hide their real bias in order to accumulate a larger audience.   That argument, however, is undermined in this case by FOX's bogus claims of impartiality.

When right-wing political operatives control news networks, they are not only subject to the unusual pressures (and enmities) created by a lifetime of hardball politics, but seem to easily crumble when forced to choose between making money and making news. When a FOX News station in Tampa generated a forceful and damning story about a Monsanto artificial cow hormone (known as BGH or rBST, which is banned in several countries), a couple of sharp letters from Monsanto’s lawyers to Roger Ailes got the story killed, despite suspected links between the hormone and human cancer. This is perhaps the most pernicious and evil form of synergy, that over-used euphemism for news whoring.

I’m not sure if the notion of FOX’s Big Lie or the fact they are so uniformly unfair bothers me more. On the other hand, I may be fretting about this FOX News business too much, given their miniscule audience. But as a teacher at the University of Minnesota told me when the school’s administration was dividing up "merit pay" and the faculty were at each other’s throat over what was really a small amount of money, "We wouldn’t fight so hard about this except there’s so little at stake."


Fox in the Cow Barn
It was supposed to be unlike anything at any local station anywhere. A "dream team" of investigative reporters to tackle hometown issues with the backing of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television, which now owns and operates more TV stations than any other company in America. Instead, my investigative reporting partner (and wife) Jane Akre and I, with more than forty-two years of award-winning journalism experience between us, found our year at WTVT in Tampa to be a journalist's worst nightmare…

For another take on this story:
EXTRA!Update, June 1998
"We Paid $3 Billion For These Stations. We'll Decide What the News Is."

Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, a husband-and-wife investigative reporting team at WTVT, Fox's Tampa Bay affiliate, thought they had a dynamite story: Despite promises to consumers, supermarkets in Florida were selling milk produced with rBGH, a synthetic growth hormone developed by Monsanto that boosts milk production. The use of rBGH causes udder infections in cows, requiring increased use of antibiotics, but the monitoring of antibiotic residues in milk was inadequate, Akre and Wilson found

So much TV news, so few viewers
It's lonely at CNN, MSNBC, and FNC
When Andrew Cunanan was found dead on a Miami Beach houseboat last month, there was relief--and disappointment. A suspected mass murderer had been stopped, but no one would ever know for sure what motivated him. Although they wouldn't admit it publicly, news executives were among those who were let down. Cunanan's suicide ended any prospects of following a long and tawdry trial of a gay serial killer.

Hearsay rules

Murdoch's Mean Machine
How Rupert uses his vast media power to help himself and hammer his foes

Is Fox News Fair
For the 3 out of 4 Americans who believe the news is biased, we present something quite rare: a news network dedicated to providing fair and balanced coverage. It's cable news for the independent thinker, 24 hours a day.
Full page advertisement,
The New York Times,
September 15, 1997

Fox News Channel, harnessing the vast, worldwide resources of the News Corporation. Three international partnerships, broadcast sites and news rooms around the globe. Access to more reporters and news professionals than any other network. Full, fair and balanced coverage . . . The Fox News Channel; we report, you decide.
Promotional announcement
aired throughout the day on
the Fox News Channel

Behind the Times: Who Pulls The Strings at Washington's No. 2 Daily?
The Washington Times, the right-wing daily that bills itself as an alternative to the Washington Post, is owned and influenced by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. But most journalists seem unable or unwilling to consider the political implications of this fact -- despite the role of Washington Times executives in the Koreagate scandal of the 1970s and the Iran-contra scandal today.

Read about how Ailes & Murdoch used New York Mayor Rudolph Giouliani to force Warner Cable to carry the FNC in New York City:
Fox battles Time Warner for a parking place on Manhattan cable
When you're Rupert "Repeat" Murdoch, you're unaccustomed to taking no for an answer. So when the local Manhattan cable provider said it was "channel locked" and couldn't accommodate his $165 million Fox News Channel just yet, he went above its head. On October 2, the global media visigoth showed up in New York for the channel's launch party and decided to call in a few political favors to try to shoehorn it onto the city's cable dial. That night, he cornered the city's control-freak Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, who could use a peppy TV Pravda anointing his every action, even his very stupid and transparently political ones, and apparently convinced him to do something very stupid and transparent: use the Oct. 9 "review" of the cable company's franchise agreement with the city to force it to violate federal cable regulations and put FNC on in place of one of the commercial-free city public access channels