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News Corp. defends $1 million donation to Republican Governors Association

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; C01

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 if 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."

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

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