What Are the Politics of Network Bosses?
While David Croteau’s study demonstrates that Washington journalists are to the right of the general public on many economic issues, it needs to be stressed that the personal views of news reporters do not translate directly into the slant of news coverage. Reporters have editors or producers who play a key role in how the news is presented; these editors and producers in turn are overseen by higher-up news executives, part of a hierarchy that eventually culminates in the chief executive officer of the corporation that owns the news outlet.
But those who specialize in scrutinizing the private opinions and voting habits of reporters rarely talk about the personal views and political activities of the CEOs who run the corporations those reporters work for. This omission is somewhat puzzling: If anyone’s biases are manifested in news coverage, it’s more likely to be the person who has the power to hire and fire, not the underlings whose paychecks are dependent on their superiors’ approval. Let’s take a look at where the heads of the four major broadcast networks stand politically:
Known as “Neutron Jack” for his job-slashing zeal, he wrote a business how-to book that advised managers: “Downsize before it’s too late.” He isn’t shy about telling his subordinates how to do their jobs, commanding NBC News chief Larry Grossman not to use the expression “Black Monday” for the 1987 stock market crash–because such expressions might depress the price of GE stock (The Electronic Republic, p. 84).
When conservative CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg wrote a tendentious piece for the Wall Street Journal editorial page (2/13/96), accusing colleagues of having a liberal bias and citing a report on Steve Forbes’ flat tax as evidence, Jordan was supportive. “I think his criticism is fair,” Jordan told USAir Magazine (5/96).
“Mike thinks Bill is one of the best, most decent people he’s ever met in politics,” a friend of both men told the London Guardian (8/26/95). “Eisner admires Bradley so much that he objects whenever anyone else in the movie industry tries to throw a fundraiser for the New Jersey senator,” the Los Angeles Times reported (7/30/90).
Aside from this ardent admiration for Bradley, there’s little evidence of Eisner’s political commitment. He’s boasted of the apolitical nature of his company’s products: “There are many places in the world, like China, India and other places, that do not want to accept programming that has political content,” he said at the time of Disney‘s merger with ABC. “But they have no problem with sports and they have no problem with the Disney kind of programming.”
Murdoch “is far more right-wing than is generally thought,” according to Andrew Neil, who used to edit Murdoch’s London Sunday Times. “In the 1988 American presidential election his favorite for the Republican nomination was Pat Robertson,” Neil wrote in his book Full Disclosure. “Dole is far too moderate a conservative for his tastes.”
But Neil also notes that Murdoch “will curb his ideology for commercial reasons,” realizing that “a Sunday Times which entirely reflected his far-right politics, especially on social issues, would lose readers.” And Murdoch tolerates the sometimes subversive messages of shows like The Simpsons and The X-Files, which are major money-makers for Fox.
As ideologically committed as he is, if Murdoch gave the impression that promoting the right wing was more important to him than making money, the price of his company’s stock would likely drop. Luckily for him, the main source of revenue for his TV network is corporate advertising–and few corporations will object to the conservative messages that Murdoch is most intent on conveying.