The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

Category: News Corp.

Newt Gingrich bashes Politico's John Harris, media in debate ploy

Newt Gingrich Rick Perry

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The role of stalwart chief executive already had two suitors in Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Casting the rest of Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul nailed the libertarian puritan and John Huntsman cornered reasonable moderate. So what job remained for onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich, struggling to make a mark on a stage stacked with eight candidates?

How about Chief Media Basher and All-Around GOP Team Guy?

It may have amounted to a bit part, but one offering scene-stealing opportunity, especially given that the event at the Ronald Reagan Library & Museum in Simi Valley was being broadcast by MSNBC. The liberal-tilting cable network gave the also-ran Gingrich the perfect foil, the chance to play Republican Party uniter and -- who knows? -- maybe begin positioning himself for some future Cabinet appointment.

Gingrich's turn will be most remembered (and already celebrated by multiple conservative commentators) for attacking Politico's John Harris, when the debate moderator tried to get him to take sides between fellow GOP candidates on the issue of healthcare.

The Georgian got in a few other not-so-subtle digs at the media and advanced a much broader thesis: Attempts to tease out differences between the Republican hopefuls were thinly veiled maneuvers "to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated."

That proposition is enjoyable raw meat for the GOP base. And it would make a lot of sense, except for the fact that the entire cumbersome, protracted and heavily covered primary-election process is designed to expose and explain differences among a political party's various candidates. Is there any other way to help voters decide which product to finally pull off the shelf? (Well, probably, but this is the system we are stuck with, for now.)

Yet Gingrich and a sizable pack of post-debate commentators expressed dismay, even outrage, that NBC anchor Brian Williams and Harris would try to get the candidates to talk about their differences. Obviously, given MSNBC's well-deserved reputation for liberal political commentary, this had to be a partisan plot.

This raises many questions: Did all these people sleep through the last several presidential campaigns? Don't any of them recall how the media, to take just the most recent instance, spent months reporting and glorying in every possible distinction between dueling Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton? Have political debates, three years later, been redesignated as "friending" circles?

You would think so to listen to the undeniably bright (and, in this case, cunning) Gingrich. From his first answer, he made clear he would be school-marming and parrying the debate moderators, while playing shamelessly to the partisan gallery.

Asked about writing the forward for Perry's book "Fed Up" -- which outlines the Texas governor's serious doubts about all sorts of federal programs, including Medicare -- Gingrich would have none of it.

"Look, he's said himself that was an interesting book of ideas by somebody who's not proposing a manifesto for president," Gingrich said. "And I think to go back and try to take that apart is silly."

Even though the book was published just last year, Gingrich suggested to Williams that questions about "Fed Up" made no sense. So Check One, on Gingrich's new debating rules: Would-be presidents should not have to talk about their previous scribblings, even ones they wrote as visions of the Oval Office danced in their heads.

Near the end of the debate, the former Speaker would have to straighten Williams out again. In response to a question about Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke (whom he would fire "tomorrow"), Gingrich pivoted to an earlier question. A much earlier question; actually from a previous GOP debate.

"We were asked the wrong question at the last debate," Gingrich said. "The question isn't, would we favor a tax increase? The question is, how would we generate revenue?"

Gingrich said the conversation should be about cutting government and opening vast tracts of Alaska to gas and oil extraction. Never mind that many economists and public-opinion surveys would seem to put some tax increases (for higher-income earners) on the table for most Americans. We nonetheless have Gingrich's Check Two: No more questions about higher taxes. For anyone.

He saved his third rule, and sharpest barb, for Harris, the longtime political writer and co-founder of

Harris suggested that the two GOP front-runners -- Romney and Perry -- had "a genuine philosophical disagreement" over healthcare. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney passed a reform that required residents to buy health insurance. Perry and other Republicans have designated such a "mandate," a key to President Obama's national healthcare law, as just the sort of big-government solution that is anathema to economic recovery and American values.

Harris asked Gingrich to weigh in on the side of Romney's Massachusetts plan or the small-government approach in Texas, where one-quarter of residents are uninsured.

"Well, I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," Gingrich snapped. Harris interjected that there is a real choice to be made -- requiring citizens to buy health insurance, or not.

Gingrich remained unmoved. He huffed that he would "repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated." Check Three: the media should never expect one Republican to speak ill of another.

It seems abundantly clear, as Gingrich pointed out, that Republicans are unified in opposing Obama's healthcare changes. But not so clear, or true, is Gingrich's contention that only slippery, scheming journalists want to talk about Romney's healthcare record. The record of the last few months will show any number of occasions in which Republicans on the stump, with little aid from villainous reporters, used "Romneycare" to bludgeon the former Massachusetts governor.

Could the news media in clear conscience cover the current campaign and not raise one of the front-running candidate's major policy initiatives, one that was also a substantial public policy watershed? Wouldn't a moderator who failed to question what other candidates felt about that initiative be guilty of sloppiness, if not malpractice?

That Gingrich has begun flailing to draw himself attention is not just a conclusion of crazy liberals. Speaking on Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, anchor Chris Wallace said of Gingrich: "He is doing this stunt, which he did with me and he did with John Harris yesterday, which is attack the messenger. If he thinks that works, fine. I find it kind of sad."

[For the Record: 2:08 p.m. Sept. 9: A previous version of this post said anchor Chris Wallace spoke on Fox Business News.]


Jon Stewart blasts Mitt Romney's jobs plan

Perry, Romney square off in Reagan Library debate

On the Media: A grim reminder of Iraq tragedy from WikiLeaks

-- James Rainey

Photo: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich greet after a debate among GOP presidential candidates at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Musuem in Simi Valley on Wednesday. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

No hacking at the N.Y. Post, says former N.Y. Post hack

New York Post's Jared Paul Stern denies hacking at paper
Jared Paul Stern certainly doesn’t have the warm fuzzies for his old employer, the New York Post. The one-time contributor to the Page Six gossip column was driven out of the tabloid after accusations, never proven, that he tried to extort money to keep one high-profile magnate out of the headlines.

But despite his estrangement from his former employer, Stern said in an interview this week that he doubts Rupert Murdoch’s rambunctious  U.S. publication has employed the phone hacking and police payoffs that were endemic at its British cousin, the now-shuttered News of the World.

“Their whole game is more sort of intimidating people or cozying up to people to get information,” Stern said the other day of gossip reporters at the Post. In more than a decade contributing to Page Six he said he never saw or heard of phones being improperly accessed. The only payments, minimal ones, went to public relations types who acted as virtual stringers for Page Six, Stern said.

Not that Stern attributes the failure to employ the so-called “dark arts” on any particularly high motives on the part of Post gossip writers.

“They couldn’t hack an electric toothbrush there,” Stern said. “There are no techno-whizzes to figure it out and they don’t have anything like the budget of those British papers. The Post hemorrhages money. They don’t have the budget for any extras.”

The Post has been reported to lose tens of millions of dollars a year. News Corp. leader Murdoch is said to keep the paper going because of his love of tabloids and because of the political leverage it gives him in America’s biggest city.

Stern experienced a brief and unwanted celebrity in 2006 when one-time supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, a close friend of former President Clinton, accused the tabloid reporter of trying to pry money out of him in exchange for keeping Burkle out of the Post.

Burkle videotaped a couple of his meetings with Stern and federal prosecutors investigated the case as a possible extortion before deciding not to file charges against Stern. The writer subsequently sued Burkle, Clinton and others, claiming that they had tried to ruin his reputation. A judge tossed the lawsuit out.

Now Stern said he is working on various projects, though he declined to go into much detail. His website on style had new entries as recently as this summer. And he suggests that his proposed memoir on life in the tabloid lane, dropped by one publisher, might have new life given the scandals sweeping the industry.

“The stuff going on now is breathing some new life into it, so I am reworking it,” Stern said of the book. “It definitely has a lot more relevance and appeal.”


News Corp. shares soar amid market rally

Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

Murdoch seeks to defuse investor concerns over phone hacking scandal

-- James Rainey

Photo: One-time New York Post gossip writer Jared Paul Stern, who contributed to the paper's Page Six column, said he never heard of phone hacking or big-money payoffs while he worked for the tabloid. The paper's British cousin, News of the World, was closed after its use of the "dark arts" caused a scandal in Britain. Credit:  Shiho Fukada / Associated Press.


Phone hacking in America? English reporter comes to U.S.

GuardianRusbridger As I report in my On the Media column, the reporter who broke the story over phone hacking and corruption in the British tabloid press is coming to L.A. this week to “see whether there is a U.S. end to this story.”

Based on his email conversations with me, it’s hard to tell whether Nick Davies of the Guardian has a specific angle, or is just taking a broad look at how British tabloids and others operate in America.

Most journalists, both over the pond and here, believe that if the “dark arts” are being employed in the U.S., they are not  nearly as endemic as they appear to be in Britain.

Davies' editor, Alan Rusbridger, said he thinks trouble in the press there might be linked to the ascension of editors who began their careers covering celebrities. The editors had an anything-goes attitude, Rusbridger said, a sensibility they carried into hard news coverage when they became the top editors at their outlets.

Among those with showbiz coverage roots who went on to run British newsrooms were Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who later became chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, and Piers Morgan, onetime editor of the Daily Mirror and now a host on America’s CNN. Though implicated by a former Mirror reporter as having knowledge of phone hacking, Morgan has vehemently denied it.

Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media columnist, said he has been directly told of an agreement among British press executives to not report negatively on each other. That common interest could have been magnified, in recent months, by the realization that many of the papers might have a common problem with phone hacking. Any investigation might cascade from one newspaper to the next.

News International, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., went to some lengths to kill the hacking story. Greenslade said in an interview that he got a small personal taste of the campaign. One of News International's senior executives took him to dinner last year and, after dispensing with some niceties, began to argue that "there was nothing to the allegations and why couldn’t I bring some sense to bear at the Guardian.”

Greenslade didn’t do anything of the sort. The Guardian never slowed its reporting. And the scandal has caught up a good hunk of Britain’s press, police and political class.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger gives evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in the House of Commons in 2009. Much of the English press ignored the testimony, as the Guardian fought a lonely battle to expose illegal phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Credit: Press Association / AP Images

No joke: Jon Stewart voted Republican, at least once

Johnstewart Jon Stewart may have surprised some people when he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that he voted for Republican George H.W. Bush for president in 1988. “There was an integrity about him that I respected greatly,” Stewart told the Fox host.

Not so greatly that he made Bush 41 immune to his “Daily Show” barbs. As Stewart said repeatedly to the seemingly incredulous Fox host, “I am a comedian first."

Stewart’s Comedy Central program came on about seven years after the elder Bush left office, so he did not give the 41st president a full satiric working over. But over the years, he lobbed a few gentle darts at the retired chief executive.

When Bush went skydiving in 2004 to celebrate his 80th birthday, Stewart showed the clip. “OK,” he said, “we’re sorry we called you a wimp. Let it go!”

More than once, Stewart lumped the elder Bush in with the last half-dozen presidents in segments that castigated the entire group for failing to make the U.S. energy independent.

Around the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Stewart showed the incoming president meeting with predecessors Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Stewart said it looked like a “World’s Greatest Grandpa” competition, declaring Bush 41 the winner because “his pockets are filled with hard rock candy and penny whistles.”

Fox's Wallace invited Stewart on the program Sunday to challenge the comedian's suggestion that the Fox News channel functions as a conservative political organ more than a news outlet. Stewart neatly rebuffed Wallace’s arguments, saying ideology was only a secondary motivation for him.

"My comedy is informed by ideology, there is no question," he said. "But I am not an ideologue."
As I was looking for Stewart’s previous “Daily Show” mentions of Bush the elder, I ran into plenty of clips that would tend to back his comedy-first claim.

To cite just one: a June 25, 2009, segment in which the comedian contrasted Obama’s lofty election talk about transparency with his administration’s record of withholding information and documents, including background about a government eavesdropping program.

Stewart had one other quip for Wallace about why he voted for Bush. The then-vice president's opponent was then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Referencing an infamous Dukakis photo faux pas, Stewart said: “There’s something about tiny people in helmets.”

-- James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Jon Stewart of the Daily Show debated Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." He said comedy drove his show, not ideology. Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3 / "The Daily Show"

Fox News advertiser asked to dump channel over gay 'slurs'

GlennBeck Political activists who led an advertiser boycott credited with helping to cut short commentator Glenn Beck's tenure on Fox News are ready to announce a new campaign to wrench advertisers away from Fox.

Media Matters for America and three gay activist groups will on Monday ask online travel promoter Orbitz to drop its ads on Fox, citing repeated slams on the cable outlet against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals and against the issues important to them.

Media Matters' DropFox campaign joined GLAAD, the Courage Campaign and Equality Matters in a letter calling on Orbitz International Chief Executive Barney Harford to reconsider his company's use of Fox as an advertising platform.

The groups noted that Orbitz has been successful in providing travel services to the LGBT community. The activists called out various Fox personalities and guests for "misinformation, smears and flat-out lies" toward gays and lesbians and asked the company not to support the news outlet with its ad dollars.

The campaign cites a long list of complaints against Fox programs — such as Bill O'Reilly arguing that allowing gays to marry could open the door to polygamy, or host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee suggesting that gay marriage was as wrong as allowing "every behavioral pattern that is against the ideal," including drug use and incest.

Media Matters released research showing that a previous campaign against Beck led to a marked decrease in advertiser support. When the boycott began, Beck brought in well over 500 spots per month, a number that declined to as low as 300 spots a month before rebounding to about 400. Among those not advertising with the show were big corporate accounts such as Allstate and Anheuser-Busch.

The information suggests that "available paid ads never recovered as a result of advertiser boycotts” against Beck's show, said Angelo Carusone, campaign director for Media Matters.

The liberal watchdog group said it plans to continue indefintely with the campaign targeting Fox via its advertisers.

— James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: Fox News host Glenn Beck will end his show later this year. Activist groups claim some of the credit after a campaign that succeeded in getting many advertisers to pull their ads off Beck's show because of his inflammatory presentations. Credit:  Justin Lane / EPA.






Al Jazeera, Fox log biggest audience jumps during Egypt crisis

AlJazeera Al Jazeera English and Fox News appear to be the winners in terms of audience expansion during the recent crisis in Egypt. Other news  outlets that usually gain in such big international crises, like CNN, got a more modest bump as they covered the events leading to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's government.

In the week (ending Feb. 6) before Mubarak stepped down, Al logged 727,000 unique visitors in the United States, according to the Internet tracking outlet That's about five times more readers (and viewers, given the site's streaming video) than the cable outlet had in a similar week a year earlier, when it logged 154,000 uniques.

Readers/viewers of the site praised the immediacy it brought to the action in Tahrir Square in Cairo and its ability to sample opinions from the crowd, even when the security situation made it too dangerous for some Western-based news operations to be out among the crowds, which included a particularly violent element supporting the regime.

Fox News also got a bump in its prime-time ratings, with an average of nearly 2.4 million viewers watching from 8 to 11 p.m. the week ending Sunday, Feb. 13. (Mubarak resigned Feb. 11.) During a week in early January before the crisis, by way of comparison, Fox averaged a little under 2 million viewers during the same time slots.

Second-place cable news outlet MSNBC, by contrast, saw its audience decline slightly in the same comparison--from 985,000 to 929,000. And CNN got a slight boost--from 712,000 to 739,000. CNN has traditionally seen bigger increases in viewership during big breaking news events.

It's hard to compare those figures to the three broadcast networks--NBC, ABC and CBS--which draw the biggest audiences for any single regular news show. All three of the network evening news programs appeared to be down fractionally during the week the Egypt crisis culminated, compared to a week in early January.

Regular nightly leader NBC Nightly News, with Brian Williams, drew just under 10 million viewers on average for the week ending Feb. 13. (During the week ending Jan 16, for comparison, the Williams-anchored news had drawn 10.5 million a night.) The ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer hit 8.8 million people that same week (down from the January week of more than 9.1 million) and the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric brought in 6.4 million (compared to more than 7.1 in the earlier week.)

--James Rainey


Photo: The logo of Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel is seen in Doha. The channel was launched 15 years ago by the Gulf Arab state's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani with the goal of providing the sort of independent news that the region's state-run broadcasters had long ignored. Al Jazeera first grasped the enormity of the Tunisia uprising and its implications for the region, which soon spread to Egypt and other countries. Credit: Fadi Al-Assaad /  REUTERS





The Daily's Richard Johnson takes a swing at Nikki Finke and strikes out

Rupert_murdoch It's hard to imagine anyone who could arouse feelings of sympathy for Nikki Finke, who's been something of a one-woman wrecking crew during her tenure at Deadline, having alienated most of her old media pals with a slew of vituperative, vindictive antics before lapsing into her recent Garbo-esque silence. (When the Huffington Post sold this week for $315 million, a host of media types took great relish in dredging up Finke's original vitriolic story about the HuffPost launch, in which she confidently predicted that the Arianna Huffington-led enterprise would be a huge disaster.)

But when it comes to l'affaire de Nikki Finke foto, let's just say that Richard Johnson, the L.A. bureau chief of Rupert Murdoch's much-heralded new iPad-oriented publication, the Daily, has found a way to make Finke look, at least ever so briefly, like a victim (with Johnson assuming the role of the vulgar tabloid hag). Any hope of the Daily being viewed as a class act pretty much went out the window with the publication of this Johnson-penned non-story, which ran a stalker photo with the headline: "Is this Nikki Finke, the most powerful -- and elusive -- woman in Hollywood?"

Alas, no, it wasn't, with two of Finke's sometimes friends, IndieWire's Anne Thompson and the Wrap's Sharon Waxman, both answering the Daily's crude, search-engine-inspired question with an unequivocal no. But that didn't stop the Daily from running a stakeout-style photo of a middle-aged blond woman driving away from Finke's Westwood apartment complex. Finke also denied being the woman in the photo, leaving Johnson to goose up his copy with some unsourced speculation that Finke had called several News Corp. executives, having "intimated there would be reprisals in the form of negative coverage of 20th Century Fox should we publish the photo." Oh, golly, to have been a fly on Tom Rothman's wall when that call came in!

Just to make himself look like even more of a weasel, Johnson disingenuously added: "We certainly don't believe she would ever do that -- she is too good a journalist for those type of shenanigans." Which begs the question: If you don't believe Finke made the threats, then why did you say it in the first place? Either you believe it or you don't.  

All I can say is: Yuck! It's a big black eye for Johnson, but more important, for Murdoch's ambitions of creating a credible new journalism product. For months, Murdoch has been describing the Daily as "the No. 1 most exciting project" at his company. But right now, it looks like the No. 1 most tawdry venture at News Corp., almost as comically low-brow as the garish posters for Fox's new "Big Momma's House" sequel.     

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Rupert Murdoch in New York at the unveiling of News Corp.'s new iPad publication, the Daily. Credit: Brendan McDermid / Reuters



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