Excuse me for not getting fired up when I hear Democratic leaders bleating about the "culture of corruption" in Washington under GOP rule. Sometimes I have to laugh. . .and not because the charges against the Republicans aren't true. They're totally true.
It's just that top Democrats are up to their eyeballs in that same culture of corruption -- which may be why they seem blind to how activists see them. Take my New York senator, Hillary Clinton. The Financial Times just reported that she and her re-election campaign have lined up rightwing media mogul Rupert Murdoch to host a Hillary fundraiser in July.
Murdoch is the symbol of media conglomeration and the owner of Republican mouthpieces like Fox News, Weekly Standard and the New York Post. He and Hillary have lately conducted a public courtship. Last month, Hillary attended the 10th anniversary party for Fox News in Washington, where the presidential contender schmoozed Murdoch and Fox chair Roger Ailes. According to the Financial Times, Bill Clinton will address the summer conference of Murdoch's media colossus, News Corp.
It's actually quite fitting that President Clinton address News Corp, since he helped build that conglomerate -- through his Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996, a corrupt measure largely drafted by lobbyists for the media industry as they lavished campaign cash on politicians of both parties. The law loosened regulations constraining News Corp's growth and raised caps on how many TV stations Murdoch and others could own. Murdoch immediately bought up new stations. Clear Channel expanded from 40 radio stations to 1,200; rightwing Sinclair Broadcasting expanded from 11 TV stations to 60.
By having Murdoch host her fundraiser, Hillary Clinton seems to be signaling to Murdoch that while Democratic Party activists have mobilized in recent years against media conglomeration and policies that favor and subsidize media giants, those are not concerns of hers. What does Hillary want from Murdoch? Obviously, softer coverage from Fox and elsewhere. She certainly doesn't need his help getting funds; she raised $6 million in the first three months of 2006.
Among Democratic activists, few institutions are more detested than the raging rightwing Fox News, which was unmasked by Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism -- a documentary that became a sensation in alternative movie distribution via the Internet and grassroots groups like MoveOn.
Outfoxed brought together a band of volunteer monitors who continue to track Fox News on their NewsHounds ("We watch Fox so you don't have to") website. After news broke about Murdoch's fundraiser for Hillary, NewsHounds published a headline, "Hillary Clinton Whore$ for Rupert Murdoch," and the comment: "Hillary doesn't get it. There are some things you just don't do!"
Perhaps Hillary and Bill Clinton aren't actually blind to how grassroots activists view them. More likely, it's simply of little concern. Their political careers have been based on unholy deals with the right and the corporate, and their calculation that activists in the Democratic base have no alternative but to support their opportunist leadership.
As Murdoch helps Hillary raise yet more funds for re-election, her antiwar opponent in the Democratic senate primary has resorted -- for publicity and funds -- to a 600-mile "Bring the Troops Home Now" bike ride across New York. Jonathan Tasini is a respected labor activist and journalist, and former president of the National Writers Union. But so far, he's no match for an incumbent who is a rock star in political circles, and now has America's top media mogul behind her.
Assuming Hillary wins the senate primary and is pitted against an even worse Republican, voters in one of America's most progressive states will face a choice of two major-party candidates with roughly identical views on Iraq, military spending, Iran, Israel, media consolidation, pro-corporate trade deals, etc. That's a choice Murdoch relishes. He can't lose in such an election.
When Hillary appeared at the Fox News birthday bash, Fox anchor Chris Wallace crowed that her presence "makes a statement about how we're regarded in top Democratic circles." By having Rupert Murdoch host a fundraiser, she's making another statement -- what little regard she has for Democratic activists who accurately see Murdoch as a symbol of all that's wrong with our media and political systems.
Jeff Cohen is a media critic, former Fox News panelist, and author of the upcoming book, "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media."