Can Fox News Cover Democrats Fairly While Supporting Republicans?

Bloomberg reports this week that News Corp., which own both Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association in June—a contribution that dwarfs its contributions to a handful of democratic candidates. Never mind that, as Steve Benen notes, when asked recently if it was appropriate for Fox News to actively support the Tea Party movement, News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch said “I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party.” News Corp has always more openly political—and conservative—than most other media companies. But, as Ben Smith says, “the huge contribution to a party committee is a new step toward an open identification between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and the GOP.”

News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner told Smith that "News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy." Corporations, of course, have the right to support the political causes of their choice. And in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that the government can’t limit the amount of independent political advertising companies can buy, companies are spending more on political campaigns. That doesn’t mean that those companies’ customers will necessarily like the idea that their money is being used in support of certain causes—as Target recently found out when it spent $100,000 in support of a Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota who not only favors lower corporate taxes, but also wants to ban same-sex marriage.

Fans of Fox News are unlikely to object to the idea that its ad revenues go to support Republicans. But it certainly undermines Fox’s credibility as a news organization that its owners openly support one political party. It’s a little like the reporter who tried to ask Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino a question at a press conference wearing a Florida Gators cap. Petrino, not unreasonably, refused to treat a fan of a rival team as a serious reporter or answer her questions, and the radio station she worked for fired her shortly afterward. Except what Fox is doing is on a much larger scale—it’s more like it would have been if Jim Nantz had covered the last Superbowl wearing a Saints jersey and cheering whenever the Saints scored.

Horner told The Washington Post in an interview that “It's patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties.” That’s hard to believe, especially in light of Fox’s evident bias in favor of Republican and conservative causes. It’s true that media companies regularly support different candidates and political parties. But the contributions are typically much smaller, and much more evenly balanced between the two parties. And it’s hard, as a reporter, to produce a piece that you’re aware will anger your employer. Now Media Matters reports that Fox News have advocated for Republican candidates or against their Democratic opponents in all 50 states.

Nathan Daschle, the head of the Democratic Governors Association—who says Fox News has refused to let him go on the channel and discuss the issue—says Fox is now “literally the mouthpiece of the Republican Party.” In a scathing open letter to Fox News head Roger Ailes, Daschle wrote

In the interest of some fairness and balance, I request that you add a formal disclaimer to your news coverage any time any of your programs cover governors or gubernatorial races between now and Election Day. I suggest that the disclaimer say: ‘News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November.’ If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the ‘fair and balanced’ side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

That won’t happen. Nor is Fox likely to lose many viewers over this. But it’s time to see Fox News for what it is—not news, but paid political advertising.

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