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Wednesday 5 December 2012

Murdoch Tried To Buy A President

[Update at end of post]

During his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry, Rupert Murdoch portrayed himself as not being particularly interested in politicians: it was they who came after him, he insisted, and it would be nice if they would leave him in peace. Thus the owner of the paper that crowed “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” played down his influence over the political process, and deflected any suggestion of interference.

But revelations in the Washington Post this week have shown otherwise: while right-wingers were applauding Bob Woodward’s intervention against any kind of statutory instrument for the press in the UK, they were clearly unaware of the bombshell he was about to drop on their Stateside counterparts: Murdoch had actively tried to intervene in the Presidential campaign and run his own candidate.

Sound far-fetched? It isn’t: it seems that not only Murdoch, but also his sidekick Roger Ailes, head of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) were unhappy about the field of Republican challengers to Barack Obama. Ailes got word to General David Petraeus out in Afghanistan wondering if he would like to consider entering the race on the GOP side.

It seems that Ailes was even prepared to take time off from running Fox News to manage such a campaign. This is not such a strange idea as it may seem: Ailes has advised Republican candidates from Nixon via Reagan to the elder Bush. Moreover, his knack for killer campaign interventions includes the now infamous Willie Horton adverts that did such damage to Michael Dukakis.

And if that were not enough of an eyebrow raising intervention from the Murdoch empire, it also seems that Rupe was more than prepared to bankroll a Petraeus campaign personally. The word to Petraeus was that if he was offered the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) he should take it, and otherwise resign and then run for President. In the event he got the top job at the CIA.

Ailes has now made out that his approach was indeed made, but that it was all a bit of a joke. But, as Mandy Rice-Davies might have said, he would say that, wouldn’t he? He then suggested that Kathleen McFarland, who relayed the message from Ailes to Petraeus, was acting beyond her remit, and that she wasn’t a significant contributor to Fox News. But the WaPo has the recording.

What we have here, as the paper’s comment on the affair puts it, is proof that Fox News is corrupt – McFarland asked Petraeus if he’d like the channel to do anything differently, for instance – and that Ailes is now trying to shoot the messenger to take the heat off himself and his boss. So as nasty as usual, then. But next time Rupert Murdoch pretends not to be interested in politics, remember this revelation.

Rupert Murdoch is still as venal and ruthless as ever. And don’t you forget it.

[UPDATE 21 December 1625 hours: Carl Bernstein has weighed in with a Guardian Comment is Free piece in support of his long-time colleague Bob Woodward, expressing his dismay that most of the US media either ignored the story of Murdoch trying to run his own candidate for the 2012 Presidential Election, or as their own Washington Post did, relegated it to the inside pages.

As he points out, had it been someone bankrolling a candidate on the Democrats' side, Fox News would have been all over it like a rash, and much of the rest would at least have mentioned it. But Murdoch and Roger Ailes got away with it, despite Ailes half-admitting that he really had sent his emissary to make a pitch to David Petraeus.

So, as Bernstein asks, did the WaPo sideline the story out of fear for Murdoch and his empire, or did they just develop a temporary news cycle tin ear? Worth a read]

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