News Corp.'s $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association earlier this year would be a notable gift from any company -- but Rupert Murdoch's media empire is hardly just any company.
News Corp. owns the Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, the Fox Business Network and more than two dozen local television stations, many with news programs.
Murdoch, of course, is known for his business savvy, his largely conservative political views, and his belief that much of the American press is skewed to the left.
"I don't think the million-dollar contribution will make Fox News Channel more right-wing oriented, because, for the most part, I don't see how it could be," says Eric Burns, former chief media critic for Fox News.
Officials at Fox News, the nation's top-rated cable news channel, declined to comment. They deferred to their parent company, News Corp., whose spokesman Jack Horner rejects the notion that the gift in any way undercuts the professional standing of its journalists.
News Corp.'s sprawling media empire generates regulatory questions at both the federal and local level, and Horner says the company believes in the importance of free markets and appreciates the Republican group's pro-business agenda.
Officials and editors at The Wall Street Journal, the jewel in Murdoch's crown, also would not comment for this story, though one staffer says White House officials are already pointing to the News Corp. gift in conversations with the paper's reporters.
The Journal wrote about the issue in Wednesday's newspaper, though at this writing, it's been awfully hard to find any coverage from Fox.
'It's A Pretty Bold Move'
News Corp.'s million-dollar gift represents one of the largest single donations to any American political party this election season. The news was first disclosed in an article by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Political gifts from corporations tend to be fairly balanced -- to coin a phrase. They tend to follow power, so the people in control usually get more. But the money generally gets spread around so no one is totally shut out.
Just this spring, General Electric, the owner of NBC and MSNBC, gave $105,000 to both the Republican and the Democratic governors associations. But News Corp. gave not a dollar to the Democratic governors' group, according to the most recent available records.
Some observers say the company's actions clearly conform to the ideology held by its owner and the leading figures of its news outlets.
"It's a pretty bold move," says Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "On the other hand, I think this is not all that surprising given the very overt attitude and moves made by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. over many years."
Other media companies have given money to arms of the two major political parties. For example, so far this year, the cable giant Comcast gave $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association and $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association; Time Warner (the entertainment and media company that includes CNN, Time Inc.) gave $35,000 to the Democratic governors group; while Time Warner Cable, now a separate company, gave $25,000 to the Republican governors. Comcast is all the more important because it has applied for federal approval to purchase control of the NBC Universal media division from General Electric.
Corporate giving to federal political parties flourished in the 1990s but stopped cold after the passage of the McCain-Feingold legislation that banned such direct donations. But the governors' accounts are outside federal regulation.
'Further And Further To The Right'
In recent years, Fox has begun stockpiling conservative on-air talent. It has added the conservative Glenn Beck, and dropped the liberal co-host Alan Colmes from Sean Hannity's show. The network currently has three plausible Republican presidential candidates working as paid commentators -- former Govs. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- as well as two top aides to former President George W. Bush -- political adviser Karl Rove and chief spokesman Dana Perino. (Rove is also a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.)
"There is certainly no secret not only that Fox News leans to the right, but if one has watched Fox News in the past couple years, there is evidence that it keeps leaning further and further to the right," says Burns, the former Fox media critic and author of the forthcoming book, Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties.
Burns says that Fox news shows once brought some balance to TV news by pursuing stories that were wrongly overlooked. Now, Burns says, it's harder to tell the difference between the channel's news and opinion programs.
This latest revelation revives complaints raised by the Obama administration last fall.
"We see Fox right now as the source and the outlet for Republican Party talking points," then-White House communications director Anita Dunn said at the time. "It's fine if that's, you know, how they want to build their business model, and we understand that. And it's working for them. And we understand that, as well. But we don't think we need to treat them as though they are a news organization the way other news organizations here are treated," Dunn said.
After withholding White House officials for interviews on Fox, the White House later relented.
At an April event at the National Press Club, Murdoch was asked by a liberal activist whether talk show hosts from his channel should support such political movements as the conservative Tea Party.
Murdoch's response: "No, I don't think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party."
The political activities and contributions of major corporations have long been a source of discomfort for their news employees.