One key factor must always be kept in mind when discussing Rupert Murdoch: he has a lot of money ($7.6 billion, according to Forbes) and makes even more for other people. Between 1977 and 2001, News Corporation outearned every other blue-chip company save Berkshire Hathaway and Walmart. And while money might not buy you love in America, it does buy a great deal of special favors and improper indulgences from powerful people.
Being a billionaire media mogul is even more fun when it comes to politics. Not only do politicians need your cash; they need your newspapers, magazines and TV networks too. It is this unholy nexus that Murdoch has mastered. And even today he manages to get many in the media to conveniently look the other way whenever necessary.
Consider the recent 3,000-plus-word examination of the current Murdoch crisis in The Economist. “Few outside the liberal blogosphere” were “buying” the likelihood of any connection between the empire’s criminal behavior in Britain and its operations in the United States, according to its author. The proof? “Rudolph Giuliani, a moderate Republican and former mayor of New York, called Rupert Murdoch ‘a very honourable, honest man.’”
Can it really be possible that The Economist, widely recognized as one of the most intelligent and well-reported publications in the world, is unaware of the decades-long symbiosis—one might even dare call it a “conspiracy”—between Rudy and Rupert, who watch (and scratch) each other’s backs at every opportunity?
While Murdoch’s New York Post had been four-square in Rudy’s corner during his 1989 and 1993 mayoral races, the intensity of the connection did not become clear to me until 1996, when Murdoch launched Fox News. I was working at MSNBC at the time and did not know that Roger Ailes had actually run Rudy’s failed 1989 campaign. But even so, when Time Warner at first refused to carry Fox, I could not help wondering why Giuliani felt that having a second all-news cable network in Manhattan was akin to preventing Armageddon. “In those days,” investigative journalist Wayne Barrett recently reported, “Time Warner only had space for 77 channels on the dial, and 30 applicants had lined up before Fox.” According to Barrett, after repeated phone conversations between Murdoch, Giuliani and their aides, the mayor directly threatened the future of Time Warner’s cable franchise in the city. When this didn’t work, the mayor tried to give Fox one of the city’s public access channels. Judge Denise Cote killed the idea and condemned Rudy’s “improper motives” in a decision unanimously affirmed by a three-judge appeals panel. But the blitzkrieg went on until Time Warner caved in.
The close relationship between the two power-mad men would run afoul of the law as Giuliani developed his presidential ambitions. Recall that Rudy once championed former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik as George W. Bush’s Homeland Security secretary nominee. Currently serving a four-year sentence for tax fraud, among other things, Kerik had had an affair with former Murdoch employee and trashy book publisher Judith Regan, using, as the Daily News put it, “a secret Battery Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons.” That apartment had once been designated for 9/11 rescue workers. Regan was forced out of her job and received a $10.7 million payoff. After she tried to weasel out of her legal fees, her lawyers alleged that Roger Ailes had instructed her to lie to federal investigators about her affair in order to protect Rudy’s potential as a 2008 presidential candidate. Such actions would constitute a felony, but nobody took the trouble to look too deeply into this, since it has rarely been in anyone’s political interest to take on Murdoch or Ailes, when one has to worry about the entire Murdoch empire—now starring not only Fox and the Post but also the Wall Street Journal—sending back the reply. Personally, I have been (rather crazily) described as a “Fidel Castro confidant” by Bill O’Reilly and seen my photo placed in a “Wanted” poster on his show—the latter for the crime of arguing against an invasion of Iraq.
Giuliani originally offered his testimonial praising Murdoch on July 15 to CNN’s Candy Crowley, who failed to give her audience any context. But when CNN.com turned the interview into a longer article later that day, it did report that Murdoch and Giuliani were “longtime friends”: “Murdoch attended the former mayor’s wedding in 2003, and endorsed him in the 1993 mayoral race. Also, a law and lobbying firm in which Giuliani is a partner received $100,000 in lobbying fees from News Corp in 2005, according to congressional disclosure filings.” One wonders how The Economist and Politico—which also reported Rudy’s remarks entirely without context—could have failed to mention even that much, as CNN did in its minimal and ultimately inadequate report.
Of course, the Rudy/Rupert alliance is hardly unusual. Murdoch regularly uses book deals, television contracts and columnist gigs as bribes to the powerful, just as he uses these same properties to punish those who refuse to go along. Don’t forget that until recently, Murdoch had four potential Republican presidential candidates on the Fox payroll. One of them—Sarah Palin—even got a state-of-the-art studio built in her home, gratis. And each of these powerful people has a pretty strong incentive to look the other way every time one of Murdoch’s properties or employees feels it necessary to break a law here or there in the service of the great man’s power, profits and influence.
Will Murdoch (and Ailes) be forced to explain their alleged crimes to American prosecutors as well as British investigators? Not bloody likely, alas, when so many members of our mainstream media remain eager—even now—to continue to blind their own eyes.