Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fair and Balanced? Not on Your Life!

I am a news junkie. Despite my 'lefty' leanings, I try to hear all sides, whether I like them or not. I find myself watching hours of coverage trying to distill the real news of the day. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS... The list goes on and on.

Not so long ago, network anchors were a trusted and respected source for news. That no longer seems to be the case, and with today’s news the line between the truth and the almighty dollar seems to have completely vanished. This summer Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation donated a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association.

Randi Rittenberg, a well-respected analyst and reporter, published the following report today on the impact of corporate donations to political parties. Now this is an example of fair and balanced reporting.

You can bet your life on it.

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. Time Warner, which includes CNN, Time and Fortune, has given $70,000 to the Democratic governors and $50,000 to the GOP governors, sums matched by Time Warner Cable.

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. "Our executive director would be happy to come on the show tonight to discuss this contribution," one e-mail said.

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." A Time Warner spokesman did not provide a response to the same question.

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.

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."

The Rittenberg Report


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