Sunday, May 23, 2010


Andrew Cuomo made it official yesterday -- he's a candidate for governor of New York -- and Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has responded with a surprisingly non-Democrat-phobic front page:

Now, this may be because Cuomo seems to be running as a William Weld-style Republican rather than a traditional Democrat:

He [said] he would freeze salaries of state workers. And he said he opposed raising taxes.

He proposed capping state spending and limiting local property tax increases to no more than 2 percent annually.

... Mr. Cuomo described his philosophy as "fiscally prudent and socially progressive" ...

[His] plans include a proposal to eliminate 20 percent of the state's more than 1,000 agencies, authorities, commissions and the like....

And it may be because Murdoch knows a winner when he sees one, and wants to play ball with him -- polls show that Cuomo has a lead of more than 2-to-1 over each of his potential GOP rivals.

But Barack Obama looked like a clear winner for most of 2008, and before that it seemed as if Hillary Clinton only needed the Democratic nomination to coast to victory. Murdoch did reach out to Hillary, hosting a fund-raiser for her, and in the spring of 2008 he was lavishing praise on Obama. And, of course, Murdoch backed Tony Blair and the Labour Party in 1997.

So what happened to Obama? Why didn't Murdoch choose to side with the winners of 2008? Why, instead of sucking up to the people in power, has he decided to try to destabilize the government?

Well, if we're to believe what Michael Wolff wrote in Vanity Fair in 2008, this is specific to Fox News, and the real problem is Roger Ailes. Murdoch wants to make nice! Really!

Rupert Murdoch helped broker a "tentative truce" between Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and key News Corporation lieutenant Roger Ailes, the boss of Fox News Channel....

Wolff reported in Vanity Fair that during the meeting Obama and Murdoch sat knee to knee, with the older man offering the prospective candidate advice....

But Wolff claimed things were different when Ailes took Murdoch's place....

"Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.

. ... the "Fox stain", as Wolff calls it, does not appear to be one that Murdoch is so comfortable with any more.

Wolff wrote that the influence of Murdoch's wife Wendi and the courting of more liberal figures in the media has raised a conflict in the News Corp founder...

"Fox has been his alter ego. For a long time he was in love with the Fox chief, Roger Ailes, because he was even more Murdoch than Murdoch. And yet now the embarrassment can't be missed - he mumbles even more than usual when called on to justify it; he barely pretends to hide the way he feels about [Fox presenter] Bill O'Reilly...."

But it seems to me that Obama just isn't threatening enough to Murdoch, while also seeming less deferential. Compare Blair: on the one hand, he assiduously courted Murdoch (who reportedly remarked on Blair's "puppy-dog, youthful, company-lawyer image"). On the other hand, Blair made a deal with the devil -- and maybe Obama just doesn't wield similar power over American media companies ... or maybe he simply won't wield what power he has:

Blair and [Alastair] Campbell took to heart the advice of the Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, on how to deal with Murdoch: "He's a big bad bastard, and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad bastard too. You can do deals with him, without ever saying a deal is done. But the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength."

Blair and his team believed they had achieved exactly that. A deal had been done, although with nothing in writing. If Murdoch were left to pursue his business interests in peace he would give Labour a fair wind.

I suspect Murdoch wants to be courted -- and needs to be threatened. I'm not sure Obama has done either.

Or maybe it's no more complicated than this, per Michael Wolff:

"Just before the New York Democratic primary, when I found myself undecided between Clinton and Obama, I said to Murdoch (a little flirtation, like a little gossip, softens him), 'Rupert, I don't know who to vote for - so I'm going to give you my vote. You choose'," he wrote.

"He paused, considered, nodded his head slowly: 'Obama - he'll sell more papers.'"

And attacking Obama still sells more papers -- or, rather, draws more eyeballs to Fox. So what if it helps destroy the country?

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