Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Murdoch, Son Differ Sharply Over Israel

BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
July 25, 2007

The pro-Israel outlook of the Wall Street Journal and many News Corp. outlets could waver if one of Rupert Murdoch's sons, James Murdoch, takes the helm of the publishing and broadcasting company, a new book suggests.

The just-published diaries of a communications director for Prime Minister Blair, Alastair Campbell, indicate that James Murdoch launched into a foul-mouthed tirade that suggested that the behavior of Palestinian Arabs was justified by their poor treatment by Israelis. The outburst occurred at a private dinner with his father, his brother, Lachlan, Mr. Blair, and others at no. 10 Downing St. in January 2002.

The elder "Murdoch was at one point putting the traditional very right-wing view on Israel and the Middle East peace process and James said that he was ‘talking f— nonsense.' [Rupert] Murdoch said he didn't see what the Palestinians' problem was and James said that it was that they were kicked out of their f— homes and had nowhere to f— live," Mr. Campbell recorded, adding that the News Corp. chairman was "very pro-Israel, very pro-Reagan."

The prime minister's aide said James Murdoch's outburst drew a rebuke from his father, who said "he didn't think he should talk like that in the Prime Minister's house."

"James got very apologetic with [Mr. Blair], who said not to worry, I hear far worse all the time," Mr. Campbell wrote.

James Murdoch, who heads News Corp.'s BSkyB satellite broadcasting division, has been intimately involved in the firm's $5 billion bid to take over Dow Jones, which publishes the Journal. The elder Murdoch brought James to a critical meeting last month in Manhattan at which the pair sought to win over members of the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones.

The takeover talks have been difficult in part because members of the Bancroft family have demanded assurances that there would be no interference with editorial practices at the Journal.

It is widely assumed in financial and publishing circles that James Murdoch would have ultimate responsibility for overseeing operations at the Journal if the takeover bid is successful. James Murdoch, 35, is also seen as the most likely heir to chairmanship of News Corp. when his father, 76, retires.

Advocates for Israel expressed distress yesterday at the report of James Murodch's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Certainly, it's troubling," a spokesman for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Alexander Safian, said. "It's a little upsetting to hear that perhaps a son who might eventually have a lot of power is not favorably inclined towards Israel."

Mr. Safian said several News Corp. properties, including the New York Post and Fox News, usually present a positive image of Israel, though some British outlets have a more mixed record. He said the Wall Street Journal's editorial page is presently "very pro-Israel," but the news pages are not.

A spokesman for News Corp., Andrew Butcher, and a spokesman for BSkyB, Robert Fraser, declined to comment on Mr. Campbell's diary entry or on how the Murdochs' views on Israel could affect the press and broadcasting operations.

A former editor of the Jerusalem Post who now works as an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens, said he expects an agreement being worked out between the Bancrofts and the Murdochs to insulate the Journal from any interference. "If the Murdochs are intent on preserving our editorial independence, as they profess to be, neither Rupert's apparent pro-Israel bias nor James's reported anti-Israel bias should make any difference," Mr. Stephens said.

A pro-Israel activist in London, Jonathan Hoffman, said he was not aware of other instances where James Murdoch had expressed views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It's clearly interesting," Mr. Hoffman said.

While Mr. Safian criticized Israel-related coverage by Sky News, the service James Murdoch currently oversees, Mr. Hoffman said he had no issues with Sky. "I've never had any cause for complaint about their coverage on Israel, in contrast to the BBC," he said.

Mr. Hoffman, an economist, said he considers James Murdoch's views on Israel fairly typical in Britain, particularly in younger circles. "The generation that remembers World War II and the Holocaust, that generation knows why Israel was created as a Jewish state and appreciates it," the activist said. "I think makes a huge difference."

While many Europeans are steeped in anti-Israel sentiment at universities on the Continent, James Murdoch attended Harvard University for a year before dropping out to start a rap music label.

A pro-Israel lobbyist in Washington, Morris Amitay, said family dynamics may explain James Murdoch's exuberance but that the outburst did not reflect well on the young executive. "For a son to say his father was talking ‘f—ing nonsense,' that's a little bothersome … particularly in that venue."

While Rupert Murdoch generally hews to a pro-Israel line, he maintains business contacts in the Arab world. A Saudi prince who is a major investor in News Corp., Alwaleed bin Talal, has expressed confidence in the elder Murdoch, as well as James and Lachlan, as future leaders for the company. In 2005, Prince Alwaleed reportedly complained to the elder Murdoch that Fox News was labeling disturbances in Paris as "Muslim riots." The graphic was later changed to read "civil riots."

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