Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes a host of predominantly conservative-leaning institutions, accused his competitors, on Tuesday night, of being the ones with the biases.
Speaking at a forum for the public affairs TV series, The Kalb Report, the News Corp. CEO valiantly declared that his rival networks -- MSNBC and CNN -- "tend to be Democrats" while those at his own Fox News "are not Republicans."
Reminded that Fox currently houses the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Murdoch replied that he wasn't sure how often his chief at the network, Roger Ailes, used her for news. "I know whenever he does the ratings leap... I'm not adverse to high ratings."
Asked later during the question and answer session to name a single Democrat who worked for Fox News, however, Murdoch struggled.
"They are certainly there... Greta Van Susteren is certainly close to the Democratic Party," he said, after blanking on names first and insisting that Ailes would have a long list. "She doesn't do many political stories. She is just a great journalist... but people who have been involved in Democratic politics and so on, yeah we have people..."
It was a one of many crests to a winding and often frank take (from an often enigmatic figure) on the entire waterfront of the media landscape. Ever the industry competitor, Murdoch offered the same charges of bias to his main print rival, the New York Times, which has been placed in the News Corp bull's-eye ever since he purchased the Wall Street Journal.
"I have great respect for the Times except it does have an agenda," he declared. Asked what, exactly, that agenda was, he replied: "anything Mr. Obama wants. You can see it. You can see it in that the White House pays them off by feeding them stories and so on."
He pointed, as evidence, to an interview the president gave for Tuesday's edition with reporter Peter Baker on the administration's new nuclear weapons policy. "A very good story," he acknowledged with a tinge of envy, "which we would have liked." From there he suggested that the Times was anti-Israel in its coverage of the Middle East.
The indictment was a bit mild, all things considered, when placed next to the comments Murdoch made about The Washington Post. "I don't read the Washington Post," he said. "I probably should, but I don't."
The mogul was peppered with a host of questions related to his media empire's political leanings, and in each case fought the perception that he's made his fortune by catering to the conservative audience. Asked by an official at the progressive watchdog group, Media Matters, whether it was ethical for officials at Fox to promote the Tea Party movement (as has been documented on some occasion) he replied without hesitation.
"No. I don't think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party. But I'd like to investigate what you are saying before condemning anyone."
Murdoch even waded into the political arena. Doing little to dissuade the widely-held belief that he closet-ly favored Barack Obama over John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, he said he would "absolutely, very strongly" back the president if he were to take a strong stance on education reform (apparently one of Murdoch's pet issues).
"Unlike the rest of the country," he said, "I hope he does well."
"We are criminal in this country in that we are turning out a new generation of people worse educated than their parents," Murdoch added.
As for the Arizona Republican, the News Corp header was less forgiving. "I didn't find him personally likeable," he said. "He's somewhat a little hard to read wondering which side of the bed he got up on that morning. But he is a great patriot. Any man who has been through what he's been through, you can make a lot of excuses for."
Finally, Murdoch made news on the business side of the news operation. He pledged to make all of his newspapers paid-for content, requiring sites to fork over money to use their articles. This, combined with the New York Times incorporating a pay-for firewall on its website, he predicted, would set the trend for the rest of the industry.
"I think most papers in this country are going to be putting up a pay wall," Murdoch said. "How high does it go... We'll see."
"We will be very happy if they just publish our headline or a sentence or two and that's it," he offered earlier. "Followed by a subscription form."
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