Murdoch Speaks: Fox Civil War Deepens

Rupert Murdoch has sent some new signals about where he and NewsCorp may stand in the brewing battle between the GOP establishment's preferences for the GOP presidential ticket in 2012 (led by paid Fox New contributor Karl Rove) -- which pointedly do not include Sarah Palin -- and the increasingly probable “rogue” presidential candidacy of Palin (also a paid Fox New contributor).

To date it has been established that Palin and Beck stand together in the use of divisive fear mongering and violence-inciting language that has already led to real violence (the head-stomping of a progressive activist by a Rand Paul supporter in Kentucky), a string of death threats directly linked to Beck (Nancy Pelosi and Patty Murray), and a near tragedy at the Tides Foundation directly linked to Beck by the shooter himself. In reaction to a challenge by myself and Michael Keegan in the Huffington Post, Palin said, "I stand with you with you, Glenn" in direct reference to his reckless rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and their palpable deranged consequences. It goes without saying that Beck (and Rush Limbaugh to boot) stand with Palin, but it's also clear that she, the one with the electoral political ambition, needs them more than they need her. Fox's Greta Van Susteren also seems to be on the Palin bandwagon.

In a little-noticed interview with the Australian Financial Review, Murdoch, echoing Palin, has announced in no uncertain terms he stands with Beck -- a “very genuine, extremely well-read libertarian” was his description of his star. Perhaps to underline the point that his top talent ought to get with the extremist Beck/Palin program, he trashed top-rated host Bill O'Reilly for a relatively even-handed interview of Hillary Clinton. “Disgraceful,” Murdoch called O'Reilly's handling of that interview. Murdoch's disgraceful statement -- and its message to all of Fox's on-air talent and producers -- shows once again the cynicism and deception behind the slogan “Fair and Balanced.” (Bill, I have tried to be booked on your show for years without success. I would be happy to come on soon to defend your handling of the Clinton interview and analyze your boss's trashing of you.)

Could be that Murdoch wants to back the hottest Fox stars -- Beck and Palin -- for financial reasons; he observed in the same interview that Fox is “beating the shit” out of CNN in the ratings. Of Beck he said: “Millions -- millions -- watch him at 5 in the afternoon!!” Could be that he views Tea Party agitation as merely something to be ginned up by Beck and Palin, and used in the service of a victory against Obama by ANY GOP nominee, which he will do everything he can, in the accustomed role of political kingmaker, to ensure. “The Tea Party will stiffen the back of the Republican Party,” Murdoch said.

This, itself, telegraphs far and wide within Fox that Murdoch's prior statement that Fox should not support the Tea Party or any political party is no longer operative (doesn't look like it ever was anyway, except when Fox humiliated Sean Hannity by yanking him off a Tea Party fundraiser at the eleventh hour). But words matter when you are the boss, and Murdoch has now flip-flopped. When asked by the Australian interviewer, “Are you worried by the attacks on Fox for bias and its support for the Tea Party and Republicans?” Murdoch replied, “Noooo...People love Fox News.”

But there is more to suggest Murdoch has shown his hand -- not just in standing with Beck -- but by signaling that he will throw the weight of his powerful political apparatus disguised as a media empire behind Palin as his favored GOP nominee.

In the same interview, Murdoch quoted Mike Bloomberg as telling him that after Bloomberg met with Obama, Bloomberg “came back and said I'd never met in my life a more arrogant man.” Murdoch, a close personal friend and political supporter of Bloomberg, who used the New York Post to help elect the mayor, endorsed Bloomberg's purported views of Obama.

What's behind Murdoch's Bloomberg boosterism? Probably boosting Sarah Palin.

Against the conventional wisdom, John Heilemann of New York Magazine has argued at length -- in a much-discussed piece "2012: How Sarah Barracuda Becomes President" -- that a Bloomberg candidacy can only help Palin become President, if she is the nominee. Bloomberg is not a centrist -- centrism is not a political position, it is a non-position, and therefore attracts little support, especially in a third party frame (remember the Unity 08 flop?). He is a moderate with clear views.

What most commentators who have thrown cold water on Heilemann's thesis have missed is that they have misunderstood Bloomberg, interpreting the wrong-headed notion of his “centrism” as drawing equally from both the Democrat and the Republican ticket and thus not affecting the outcome either way.

The truth is that many of Bloomberg's views are to Obama's left in word or deed: on immigration, gay rights (he is for same sex marriage), he is a strong supporter of gun control, against the death penalty, has enacted plans to fight global warming, and talks frequently about the pressing social need to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. There was also his unequivocal position in favor of building the New York City Mosque. Would President Bloomberg -- a staunch pro-choicer -- have let the Stupak Amendment slide through? “Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right, and we can never take it for granted,” Bloomberg has said.

Other views Bloomberg holds provide succor to Democrats in the financial services industry and more broadly in the business community who have been turned off by what they see as Obama's populist anti-Wall Street polemics and anti-business pro-union attitudes. “Wall Street's staunchest defender,” New York Magazine dubbed the Mayor, who is also less than enamored with organized labor.

These positions altogether draw away from the Democratic nominee, not the Republican. Can a man who just said this weekend in an interview with the Wall Street Journal of the new Congress -- “If you look at the U.S. you look at who we're electing to Congress, to the Senate, they can't read” -- possibly draw many votes from Palin, or from any GOP nominee who will have to co-opt the Tea Party folks to win? Don't think so.

What about Bloomberg's fiscal conservatism? His actual record certainly won't be attractive to the right. He doesn't like taxes, but he eliminated New York's deficit and balanced the budget by raising them. Could his fiscal conservatism play well with Democratic base? Also unlikely. Bloomberg and Treasury Secretary Geithner have disagreed about the extension of the Bush tax breaks for the rich. But the smoke signals coming out of the Obama administration this weekend suggest an openness to the Bloomberg (and Congresssional Republican) position -- not a permanent extension, but maybe for a year or two.

So if some progressive Democrats who favor progressive tax policy end up interpreting the Bloomberg and Obama tax policies as in effect the same, why not pick the stronger social liberal, Bloomberg?

What is clear as this story develops is: MSNBC execs are wringing their hands over and trying to kill their marquee host, Keith Olbermann for some piddling personal donations -- after having just a few weeks ago announced a new openly progressive branding campaign -- “Lean Forward” -- for the increasingly competitive cable network, that success brought to them in the first place by Olbermann's talents as a broadcaster (MSNBC is “beating the shit” out of CNN too). Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch is swiftly maneuvering, promoting his top stars, issuing new commands to his troops with a partisan political end game in mind: “With any kind of a Republican candidate ... Obama will find it impossible to win” re-election. For now, it looks like Murdoch's preferred candidate is Sarah Barracuda. What will Karl Rove and Company do about that? Stay tuned.