Accuracy in Media

In another indication of its leftward drift, the Fox News Channel has hired liberal former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. as a political commentator and analyst. Ford lost his Tennessee Senate race to Republican Bob Corker last year. 

Ford was the recipient of incredibly favorable coverage by Fox News during his Senate campaign. Fox News portrayed Ford as a moderate or even a conservative. 

The news about Fox hiring Ford was expected. Bartholomew Sullivan of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that “The move to the conservative network run by News Corp. media mogul Rupert Murdoch was no surprise to Washington cognoscenti, who have read speculation about the move for weeks. Well before the November election, The Commercial Appeal noted News Corp.’s support for Ford’s Senate bid. At least 18 senior News Corp. or Fox executives, including Murdoch, were contributors to his campaign.” 

Indeed, Ford received a financial contribution from Murdoch himself. AIM questioned Murdoch about it at last year’s News Corporation shareholders meeting, where Murdoch claimed he was contributing to both sides in that race. But a Murdoch contribution to Corker doesn’t show up in the Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. There is, however, a $500 contribution to Corker from Paul A. Jackson, listed as director of government relations for News Corporation in Washington, D.C. 

AIM was not able to verify the complete figure of 18 News Corporation/Fox News executives contributing to Ford, but FEC records did confirm the following, in addition to Murdoch: Peter Chernin, president of News Corporation; Gary Ginsberg, Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Communications at News Corporation; Codie Brooks, a Fox News Channel researcher; Timothy S. Carry, a Fox News Channel executive; and Suzanne Feldman, a Fox News sales executive.

Ginsberg, a former Assistant Counsel to President Clinton, has been described by Murdoch as his “ambassador to the Clinton Administration.” 

Giving to Senator Clinton, who was endorsed for re-election by Murdoch’s New York Post newspaper, was fairly common at News Corporation. Records show contributions to the Clinton campaign from News Corporation executives Murdoch, Chernin, Roy Bahat, David Benson, Anthea Disney, David Fares and Les Goodstein.  

In addition to supporting Ford and Clinton, FEC records show that chairman Murdoch has made contributions to Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and John Kerry and Democratic Representative Edward Markey. 

It turns out, according to FEC records, that giving to liberals and Democrats has not just been occurring in the ranks of top executives. Consider that Codie Brooks, a young production assistant for the Fox News show, “Special Report with Brit Hume,” was barely out of college when she forked over $2,600 to the Ford for Senate campaign. The records also show that:

  • FNC host Greta Van Susteren gave $4,200 to the unsuccessful Democratic Senate campaign of her sister, Lise Van Susteren, a Maryland psychiatrist. (Greta Van Susteren also appeared at a campaign event for her sister.)

  • Fox News employee Aaron Bruns, who contributes to the Brit Hume show, gave $362 to America Coming Together, the liberal get-out-the-vote operation, in 2004.

  • Brett Bush, identified as a Fox News producer, gave $342 to America Coming Together in 2004.

  • Amy Burkholder, a Fox News Channel senior producer and former CNN employee, gave $250 in 2003 to the Howard Dean for President campaign.

The hiring of Ford is seen by some observers as an indication that Fox News, which is under attack by the political left for perceived right-wing bias, wants to accentuate its advertised “fair and balanced” approach and reach out to Democrats. Left-wing pressure recently forced the Democrats to abandon plans to hold a presidential debate sponsored by Fox News. But there may be more to the hiring of Ford than meets the eye.   

“Harold Ford, Jr. is a political contributor who will provide political commentary and analysis on international events and the 2008 election,” says the Fox News announcement and bio of Ford. Could Ford’s role in the 2008 presidential campaign expand beyond just being a Fox News commentator? Could he use the channel to promote himself for higher office? 

The Fox News bio, which reads as though it could have been written by Ford himself, is the same as that posted on the website of the Greater Talent Network, Inc., a New York-based company that markets Ford’s speaking appearances around the country. It claims that Ford has a “passion for free enterprise” and “believes that government is most effective when it’s working for the betterment of everyone.” It also quotes disgraced former Democratic President Bill Clinton as saying that Ford is “the walking, living embodiment of where America ought to go in the 21st century.”

But Ford’s “conservative” credentials are undermined by his voting record in Congress. Ford’s lifetime political rating from the American Conservative Union was only 23.2 percent. The National Journal gave him a liberal rating of 66.3 percent, meaning that he was more liberal than 66.3 percent of his House colleagues. 

Since his loss, not surprisingly, Ford has found a home in liberal academia, taking a position as visiting professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University. He has also assumed chairmanship of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a “progressive” group that includes Senator Clinton as chair of its “American Dream Initiative.” The DLC was headed by Bill Clinton before he ran for president. 

Ford also joined Merrill Lynch, the financial firm, as vice chairman and senior policy advisor. The company says that he “will advise senior management on domestic policy issues, serve as a member of the firm’s public policy and social responsibility management committee, and support a variety of business development initiatives in the institutional and retail markets.”

Merrill Lynch had contributed $3,000 to Ford’s Senate campaign, while Senator Clinton’s political action campaign, HILLPAC, had given him $10,000. 

Despite his Senate loss, it looks like Ford is perceived to be a rising star with big potential. His support from Senator Clinton and continued relationship with her through the Democratic Leadership Council could mean that he is in the running as a Democratic vice presidential candidate or for a top post in a Hillary Clinton presidential administration.   

Both Merrill Lynch and News Corporation are well-positioned to take advantage of any such development. At the same time, Ford can continue to use the “conservative” Fox News Channel to fool people into thinking he is really a conservative.




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