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Murdoch $1m donation may not prove bias

Mark Mardell | 16:18 UK time, Wednesday, 18 August 2010

murdoch224x299.jpgMedia tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sun and the Times in the UK, Fox and the Wall Street Journal in the States, has given $1m to help Republicans in this year's mid-term elections.

It is raising eyebrows. But should it?

Mr Murdoch uses his wealth and media muscle to promote conservative free market ideas. He's just as well known for backing obvious winners, like Tony Blair in 1997 and Barack Obama in 2008, in hope of access and influence. It largely worked with Blair.

But it hasn't with Mr Obama. His powerful and widely watched Fox News Channel has had a rocky relationship with the White House.

For a time the White House limited Fox journalists' access on the grounds that the channel was more interested in unrelenting propaganda against the Obama administration than in reporting the news. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the organisation's self promotion constantly repeats the phrase "fair and balanced".

Now Mr Murdoch's News Corp has given $1m to the Republican Governors Association. Thirty-seven state governorships are up for election in November and more than half of them are hotly contested. The cash injection is much needed.

It is fairly routine for media organisations to give money to the US political parties, but the owners of CBS, ABC and NBC have been relatively even-handed, giving similar amounts to both main parties - and in the realm of thousands of dollars, not millions.

Perhaps Mr Murdoch has been more fair and balanced than appears at first sight. Certainly Democrats believe that he has handed them a gift: proof positive that Fox is biased. But I doubt that this interpretation will make much difference to the viewers of the most avidly watched cable news channel, who either know exactly what they are watching or believe that as it reflects their views it must be neutral.

In an excellent article, John B Judas argues that populism is a deep current in American politics and that it need not only be a tool of the right. But at the moment it is and Fox does popular outrage better than the competition.

By the way, while I've been writing this I have been watching Fox for the last hour and there is no mention so far of this story. But they are carrying an Obama speech and a question-and-answer session live and without interruption.

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