With surprisingly little media attention, Saudi Arabia has bought a stake in the company that owns what has been, until now, arguably its most visible and influential critic: the Fox News Network. Will this be the end of Fox’s “fair and balanced” coverage of the immense Saudi role in promoting Islamofascist terror? Or can American viewers rest assured that the royal Saudi buyer, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, has nothing more nefarious in mind than increasing his already vast fortune?
The answer to this incalculably important question may lie in understanding who this prince is, and the nature of his deal with Rupert Murdoch, the principal owner of Fox’s parent, the News Corporation.
Al-Waleed is said be the world’s fifth richest man and now NewsCorp’s fourth largest voting shareholder (behind the Murdoch family, Liberty Media and fund giant Fidelity Management & Research Co). Such a role would appear to give the Prince some say over the way the business is run. That could, presumably, extend to the content of Fox programming and that of the company’s other media outlets (which include DirecTV and 20th Century Fox).
Will Al-Waleed be a prince, and leave these American institutions alone? Or will he throw his weight around, perhaps only behind the scenes, to – let’s say – improve the sorry image his country has earned in the United States?
Mind you, public relations is not exactly something at which Al-Waleed has previously excelled. But not for want of trying.
Recall that he was the Saudi prince who made headlines after September 11th when he visited Ground Zero and offered then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani a $10 million check for relief efforts.
A few days later, however, the prince released a statement that blamed the United States and its support for Israel for the devastating 9/11 attacks. To his credit, “America’s Mayor” immediately returned the prince’s check with a statement: “There is no moral equivalent for this attack. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification when they slaughtered…innocent people….Not only are those statements wrong, they’re part of the problem.”
Then, there was the prince’s bizarre miscalculation over how to rehabilitate his image in this country. Shortly after the check fiasco, he permitted the CBS program “60 Minutes” to profile him and his hyper-rich, internationally jet-setting lifestyle. The ensuing spectacle of an indolent, Westernized Material Boy cannot have done much more for the image of the Kingdom’s royals with his country’s millions of Wahhabi have-nots than it did with the average American viewer.
The segment did, however, suggest that the prince is not above lying when it serves his purpose. For example, he told his incredulous interviewer, Ed Bradley, that that Saudi Arabia is a country with “no problems.” When pressed, he insisted, “What I'm telling you is Saudi Arabia has no civil unrest, no civil disobedience. Sorry. Saudi Arabia is a very stable country. Sure…we had these bombs here and there, but they were all related to a certain subject.”
The certain subject, of course, is the thing that deserves more attention from the American media, not less. Despite Al-Waleed’s efforts to sweep Saudi Arabia’s non-problems under the Persian rug, the Kingdom is beginning to experience what its largesse and Wahhabi ideology have visited upon the rest of the world for decades: Islamofascist terror.
Even more troubling than having a Saudi spinmeister, even a lousy one, at the decision-making table of America’s most successful, and conservative, television network is another aspect of Al-Waleed’s deal with Mr. Murdoch. The Australian entrepreneur has reportedly also given the prince the unfiltered ability to broadcast Saudi-produced materials directly into America on Murdoch’s satellite.
Here’s how that part of the deal will evidently work: Prince Al-Waleed’s Rotana Audio Visual Company, which operates TV channels in the Middle East, has signed a deal with DirecTV, the TV-satellite firm controlled by NewsCorp. As a result, it would seem Rotana will be able to beam its programs into U.S. cable boxes without interference from federal regulators, or anybody else.
Hmmm. What passes for entertainment in Saudi Arabia mostly looks like jihadist agitprop to the rest of us. Rotana has a huge library of movies, music and television programs. Such programming has to also include vicious anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-American incitement. That is, after all, the only kind of material the Wahhabi religious censors approve for production and broadcast in Saudi Arabia. Could that be what the prince has in mind for DirecTV subscribers?
Then the question occurs: Can we rely on Rupert Murdoch to keep the Saudi prince from abusing his new platforms? Perhaps not. After all, Mr. Murdoch is having succession, financial, and other problems with his business empire. In fact, he was reportedly so concerned about losing control of the News Corporation that he arranged to put a “poison pill” defense in place to stop a hostile takeover bid from one of his rivals, media magnate John Malone. Malone’s Liberty Media had taken an 18 percent share in NewsCorp’s voting stock.
Since the Murdoch family owns only 30 percent of the company’s voting shares, he is likely to be very grateful now that his prince has come. And Al-Waleed seems to understand how to reinforce that sentiment. He has told the press that he is “a vocal and open ally of Mr. Murdoch.” In his inimitable fashion, the prince added that he hasn’t given Mr. Murdoch official control of his vote, but NewsCorp’s founder can count on him to vote the Australian’s way. “He does not have proxy for me, but he has my verbal proxy.”
Even more important, in the event the fight with Mr. Malone gets messier, Al-Waleed has announced: “If the situation warrants whereby Mr. Murdoch needs more support from my side, I’m going to do it.”
While a senior Fox executive recently (privately) professed no concern on this score, the track record of Prince Al-Waleed, the Islamist interests of his family and kingdom, and the needs of Rupert Murdoch could constitute the media equivalent of a “perfect storm.” They may, indeed, translate into a worrisome new set of constraints on the network millions of Americans have come to rely upon for “fair and balanced” reporting. Nowhere has this been more important than Fox’s news coverage of the Middle East – a region CNN (especially its international arm), the BBC, and most “mainstream” print outlets cover with only slightly less hostility to America than does al-Jazeera.
Could it be that the Saudis’ troubling move on Fox and its sister companies is getting so little attention from the competition because they hope such a step will make them look at FoxNews as less “fair and balanced”? You decide.
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