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The Color of Money, The Color of Bias

The Media Research Center makes increasingly desperate and logic-defying attempts to spin away News Corp.'s $1 million donation to a Republican group.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/16/2010

When the news broke that News Corp. donated $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association -- which raises ethical concerns given the news operations the company operates, most prominently Fox News -- the Media Research Center knew what it had to do.

After all, the MRC has been a longtime apologist for Fox News. ConWebWatch has detailed how the MRC has refused to describe Fox News as biased even when its behavior meets the MRC's definition of bias when applied to the "liberal media," and it largely avoids in-depth examination of cable news coverage in an apparent attempt to avoid subjecting Fox News to the same standards it would apply to CNN and MSNBC. Such deference may be in exchange for the friendly conditions -- sympathetic interviewers, the near total lack of guests from the other end of the ideological spectrum to counter their claims -- under which MRC personnel appear on Fox News. Or it may be that it thinks there is no such thing as conservative media bias.

This unfavorable news for the owner of its favorite news outlet meant that it was time for the MRC to play Fox News apologist once again, mostly by distracting, irrelevant comparisons.

MRC vice president Dan Gainor wrote in an Aug. 17 Twitter post, "Left up in arms about News Corp contributions. Open Secrets: Media contributions 3-1 Dem over Repub." But the evidence Gainor supplied didn't really support that claim.

Gainor linked to a page titled "Books, Magazines & Newspapers: Top Contributors to Federal Candidates and Parties." But most of the entries on that page, which details donations in the 2010 election cycle, don't run news operations -- they publish magazines and books.

Of the organizations currently on the list that own news operations -- News Corp., Advance Publications, Newsmax Media, Ogden Newspapers, Greenspun Media Group, Landmark Media Enterprises, Harris Publications and Meredith Corp. -- only Meredith matches News Corp. for the percentage of donations made by the company itself; all the other media firms' donations are by employees, not the company.

Further, News Corp. as an entity far outstrips the political donations of others; it's listed as making $311,000 in donations as of this writing. Meredith, by contrast, made only $32,550 in donations.

Next up was the MRC's Tim Graham, who complained in an Aug. 18 NewsBusters post that a Washington Post article on the donation is "ruined by reality" because the Post also noted that "Until now, the News Corp./Fox political action committee had given 54 percent of its donations to Democrats and 46 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics." But Graham overlooked the obvious: the $1 million RGA obliterated the relative balance in News Corp. political contributions. Graham conceded the error in an update, admitting that "Adding $1 million to the GOP side shows a more dramatic tilt to the GOP than my faulty original assumption."

Graham was followed by NewsBuster Noel Sheppard, who groused that comedian Jon Stewart "bashed Fox News" over the donation, adding, "Unfortunately, Stewart failed to inform his viewers that Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, has so far given disproportionately to Democrats this year," as well as giving more to Democrats in 2008.

But as Media Matters' Jamison Foser detailed, Sheppard omitted details of Viacom's donations for earlier election cycles -- perhaps because the company gave more to Republicans in 2006, 2004, 2002, and 1998, thus shooting down Sheppard's theory. Given that PAC contributions tend to flow to the party in power, Foser added, Viacom’s contribution pattern isn’t particularly noteworthy.

An Aug. 27 NewsBusters post by Lachlan Markay attempted a new tactic -- citing a Washington Examiner column by Mark Tapscott claiming that, in Markay's words, "of the roughly $1.15 million network TV employees gave to political candidates in 2008, a full 88 percent of it went to Democrats." As an attempt to counter News Corp.'s $1 million donation, however, it's a meaningless, apples-and-oranges comparison.

As Media Matters points out, Tapscott's search parameters include numerous people who have nothing to do with producing network news products. For instance, Tapscott listed one Democratic donor as a "CBS 'journalist,' " when in fact he's a CBS Sports contributor who serves as a college basketball analyst, where the pro-Obama bias being suggested is not a factor. Further, Media Matters noted, donations by a company (i.e. News Corp.) and a company's employees are not comparable, and 2008 was a historic year in which Obama broke fundraising records, so comparing 2008 donations to News Corp.'s 2010 donation is especially meaningless.

Nevertheless, Markay insisted, "Though the numbers are striking, the imbalance is not altogether surprising. But they do help to put in prospect the left's righteous indignation over the political activities of Fox News's parent company."

Markay gave it another shot in a Sept. 14 post, this time claiming that "New data revealed by the Center for Responsive Politics, however, suggests a real bias at play," in that "65 percent of donations from 235 self-identified journalists have gone to Democrats this cycle." Markay added: "Unlike either the News Corp. 'controversy' or the numbers concerning network employees, these donation figures demonstrate a clear political slant among those who actually report the news."

But as before, Markay omitted context. Many of the working journalists identified by CRP as making political donations noted they were made to candidates who were personal friends, and others were made by employees of opinion-based publications, not "those who actually report the news." Markay did quote CRP noting that the tally included "outlets offering lighter fare" like sports or fashion magazines, but he didn't explain how working for, say, Vogue deserved to be counted as being part of "those who actually report the news."

Notice that there's one thing missing from all of the MRC's attempted defenses and equivocations: any evidence of a news organization making a similarly large corporate cash contribution to a liberal political cause as News Corp. made to the RGA.

Is that because there isn't such a thing? Not that the MRC would ever concede that, of course.

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