By Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York, Financial Times
Rupert Murdoch brokered a “tentative truce” between his Fox News network and Barack Obama at a secret meeting with the Democratic presidential nominee, according to the author of a book on the News Corp chairman.
Fox News is seen by the Obama campaign as among its most hostile critics. Mr Obama initially rebuffed efforts by the Kennedy family to secure a meeting with News Corp executives, Michael Wolff writes in the current issue of Vanity Fair.
While the senator for Illinois was “deferential” towards Mr Murdoch, who also owns the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, he “lit into” Mr Ailes, Mr Wolff reports.
“He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome – just short of a terrorist,” the report states.
Mr Ailes responded that Fox’s coverage might have been more favourable had Mr Obama been more willing to appear on its programmes. The three men agreed upon “a tentative truce”, Mr Wolff writes.
Nick Shapiro, Obama campaign spokesman, said: “They had an open and frank conversation where they got the opportunity to clear the air.”
Fox News has been accused of below-the-belt coverage of Mr Obama this year. One news segment asked whether a fist-bump greeting between Barack and Michelle Obama – a gesture commonly used by American athletes – was a “terrorist fist-jab”. The network also referred to Michelle Obama as Obama’s “baby mama”, slang that refers to a mother who never married her child’s father.
A News Corp spokeswoman would not comment on the report. One person at News Corp challenged its subsequent assertion that Mr Murdoch was becoming “embarrassed” by Fox’s strident rightwing positioning as “going a little far”.
John McCain’s campaign has accused the US media of giving Mr Obama an easy ride. Mr Wolff’s article is likely to focus attention on the growing importance of cable news networks in setting the political agenda.
Fox, MSNBC and CNN all reported sharply higher viewing figures for last week’s Democratic National Convention than at the same stage of the 2004 presidential election, while broadcast networks confined their coverage to one hour in primetime each evening.
Mr Wolff was given extensive access to Mr Murdoch, his executives and family for The Man Who Owns the News, the biography he plans to publish in February.
Mr Wolff’s article also claims that Mr Murdoch is working on the “far-fetched” idea of buying the New York Times, to combine the paper with the Wall Street Journal.
“I’ve watched him go through the numbers, plot out a merger with the Journal’s backroom operations, and fantasise about the staff’s quitting en masse as soon as he entered the sacred temple,” Mr Wolff reported.
For “an hour or so”, he adds, Mr Murdoch even considered buying the 20 per cent stake in Bloomberg that Merrill Lynch sold back to the financial data group in July.