Clinton is pressed on Murdoch, consolidation

by Patrick Healy, The Caucus blog/New York Times

The curious relationship between Hillary Rodham Clinton, presidential candidate, and Rupert Murdoch, media baron, flashed briefly before the eyes of Iowans on Saturday night during a Clinton campaign event.

A woman in the audience rose to ask Mrs. Clinton about Mr. Murdoch’s ownership of multiple media outlets (Fox News, the New York Post, soon the Wall Street Journal, and various other organs), and also whether Americans would “lose out democracy” if one person is in control of the media.

And Mrs. Clinton played both sides in her answer, responding sympathetically to the woman’s concern about media consolidation, but also making clear that she wasn’t singling out “any company in particular” for condemnation.

Mrs. Clinton, as a senator from New York, has built a relationship with Mr. Murdoch over the years – not only due to his role as an employer in her home state, but also because, as the hands-on owner of the Post, he can make life easier or harder for her (and for her husband, who has been a target of the tabloid’s gossip pages at times.) And Mr. Murdoch has reciprocated, throwing a fundraiser on Senator Clinton’s re-election campaign in 2006 and participating in Mr. Clinton’s annual philanthropic conference.

As the woman asked the question Saturday night and criticized Mr. Murdoch by name, Mrs. Clinton nodded slowly – though, it should be noted, that is her standard habit when an ally or supporter is addressing her.

“There have been a lot of media consolidations in the last several years, and it is quite troubling,” Mrs. Clinton began her reply. “The fact is, most people still get their news from television, from radio, even from newspapers. If they’re all owned by a very small group of people — and particularly if they all have a very similar point of view – it really stifles free speech.”

Mrs. Clinton pledged that as president, she would appoint commissioners to the Federal Communications Commission who supported “competition in the media,” and she hailed Theodore Roosevelt as a model for his trust-busting approach to monopolistic corporate impulse.

“It’s bad for consumers because you limit choice,” Mrs. Clinton said of media consolidations, and “it’s bad for citizens because it limits the diversity we have.”

Just as this reporter began to wonder if she would side-step Mr. Murdoch altogether, Mrs. Clinton then added: “I’m not saying anything against any company in particular. I just want to see more competition, especially in the same markets.”

A couple of people applauded the answer; most seemed ready to move on to the next exchange.

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