This article was reported by Jo Becker, Richard Siklos, Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner, and written by Ms. Becker.In the fall of 2003, a piece of Rupert Murdoch’s sprawling media empire was in jeopardy.
Congress was on the verge of limiting any company from owning local television stations that reached more than 35 percent of American homes. Mr. Murdoch’s Fox stations reached nearly 39 percent, meaning he would have to sell some.A strike force of Mr. Murdoch’s lobbyists joined other media companies in working on the issue. The White House backed the industry, and in a late-night meeting just before Thanksgiving, Congressional leaders agreed to raise the limit — to 39 percent.
One leader of the Congressional movement to limit ownership was Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi. But in the end, he, too, agreed to the compromise. It turns out he had a business connection to Mr. Murdoch. Months before, HarperCollins, Mr. Murdoch’s publishing house, had signed a $250,000 book deal to publish Mr. Lott’s memoir, “Herding Cats,” records and interviews show.An aide to Mr. Lott said the book deal had no bearing on the senator’s decision, and a spokesman for Mr. Murdoch chalked it up to coincidence. Still, the ownership fight showcases the confluence of business, political and media prowess that is central to the way Mr. Murdoch has built his global information conglomerate.
His vast media holdings give him a gamut of tools — not just campaign contributions, but also jobs for former government officials and media exposure that promotes allies while attacking adversaries, sometimes viciously — all of which he has used to further his financial interests and establish his legitimacy in the United States, interviews and government records show.
Mr. Murdoch may be best known in the this country as the man who created Fox News as a counterweight to what he saw as a liberal bias in the news media. But he has often set aside his conservative ideology in pursuit of his business interests. In recent years, he has spread campaign contributions across both sides of the political aisle and nurtured relationships with the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
More than 30 years after the Australian-born Mr. Murdoch arrived on the American newspaper scene and turned The New York Post into a racy, right-leaning tabloid, his holding company, the News Corporation, has offered $5 billion to buy a pillar of the business news establishment — Dow Jones, parent company of The Wall Street Journal.The sale would give Mr. Murdoch control of the pre-eminent journalistic authority on the world in which he is an active, aggressive participant. What worries his critics is that Mr. Murdoch will use The Journal, which has won many Pulitzer Prizes and has a sterling reputation for accuracy and fairness, as yet another tool to further his myriad financial and political agendas.
“It is hard to imagine Rupert Murdoch publishing The New York Post in Midtown Manhattan, with all of his personal and political biases and business interests reflected every day, while publishing The Wall Street Journal in Downtown Manhattan with no interference whatsoever,” James Ottaway Jr., a 5 percent shareholder and former director of Dow Jones, said recently..........