Fox News touting itself as “fair and balanced” has always elicited a smirk from those on the left.
Fox’s main stars – Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck – all lean right. It’s given a broadcast megaphone to Karl Rove and three potential Republican presidential candidates: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich. And Fox News chief Roger Ailes worked for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.
So in many ways, Politico.com’s scoop Friday about political donations by News Corp. comes as no surprise. But overt lobbying by a major news organization – in the form of large contributions for campaign purposes – is a definite departure from common practice.
Politico’s Ben Smith reports that News Corp. recently contributed $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce. This follows an earlier $1 million donation by News Corp. to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Both the Chamber and the RGA are working to defeat Democrats in Congress.
Fox isn’t the only member of Big Media that’s been politically involved, Mr. Smith acknowledges.
“The parent companies of other media companies such as Disney (which owns ABC) and General Electric (which owns NBC) have also made political contributions, but typically in far smaller chunks, and split between Democrats and Republicans,” he writes.
That’s also been true of earlier political donations by News Corp., which were made to candidates of both parties. And as Smith points out, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch’s political leanings had been seen as pragmatic rather than strictly ideological. His conservative British newspapers backed Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, and he cozied up to Democrat Hillary Clinton when she was a candidate for the presidency.
But that has obviously changed this election cycle as Murdoch’s political giving gives a major boost to the GOP.
According to a study by the Wesleyan Media Project, the Republican Governors Association and the US Chamber of Commerce are Nos. 1 and 3 among the top 10 interest groups spending money on key federal and gubernatorial races.
Through mid-September, the RGA has spent $12,366,821 on 19,196 broadcast spots during the 2010 election cycle. The Chamber has spent $6,747,946 on 8,462 spots.
So far, neither the Chamber nor News Corp. has had anything specific to say about the $1 million contribution. And it may be that neither believed the donation would be made public, given current campaign finance law.
But it does leave commentators and bloggers wondering what’s up with Fox News’s corporate parent.
“This makes zero sense to me,” writes Jonathan Chait, senior editor at The New Republic. “The value of News Corp to the Republican party is massive. It's worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Why also give money to Republicans?”
“By openly donating to the party, you help tear away the mask of objectivity, thereby reducing your own value as a propaganda outlet,” writes Mr. Chait. “It seems like a bad move both for Fox and the GOP. (If I'm the Republicans, I'd rather have Fox retain a more plausible claim of objectivity.) And if you're Fox, you're obviously making a joke out of your ‘fair and balanced’ mantra.”