August 10, 2017 Last Updated 9:07 am

Warring media factions fight for control of airwaves, influence in the White House

Morning Brief: Rupert Murdoch finds himself fighting for one media takeover, while fighting against another, while knowing that a media rival has a seat next to the president eager to see his own media property ascendant

The two Murdoch media entities, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, report earnings this week. 21st Century Fox went yesterday, reporting full year earnings for 2017 that showed a modest increase in revenue, but earnings that beat expectations, revenue that missed, in a report that most financial news outlets described as mixed. News Corp reports after the bell today.

Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch’s media finds itself more in the news than reporting it lately. The Wall Street Journal is being targeted by Breitbart, seen as White House Chief Strategist’s surrogate, for what it sees as a conspiracy to promote “globalists”. Fox News host Eric Bolling, recently suspended after a story in HuffPost said he said lewd text messages to two colleagues, is back in the news after he filed a $50 million lawsuit against the reporter.

Meanwhile, Murdoch is involved in two media mergers, one he wants to complete but finds is running into opposition, the other he would like to stop, fearing it will allow a rival to put the squeeze on him and his Fox channels.

The New York Times, Emily Steel:

Eric Bolling, Suspended by Fox News, Sues Over Lewd-Photo Article

Eric Bolling, the suspended Fox News host, initiated a $50 million defamation lawsuit on Wednesday against the author of a HuffPost report that said Mr. Bolling had sent lewd photographs to three female colleagues…

…Mr. Bolling, who was most recently a host of “The Fox News Specialists,” is represented by Michael J. Bowe of the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres. Marc E. Kasowitz, one of the firm’s partners, is a longtime personal lawyer for President Trump who has also represented Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host who was ousted in April amid allegations of sexual harassment.

“This anonymously sourced and uncorroborated story is false, defamatory, and obviously intended to destroy this good man’s career and family,” Mr. Bowe said in a statement. “We will defend Eric aggressively in court, where actual facts, based on evidence, testimony and cross-examination, will belie these anonymous accusations.”

Law Newz, Elura Nanos:

Eric Bolling’s $50 Million Lawsuit is a Total PR Stunt, and He Definitely Knows It

The lawsuit itself, claiming that Ali defamed Bolling by accusing him of sending the lewd texts, is destined for failure for several reasons—most obviously that all indicators point to Ali’s story being true. And I’m not talking about Bolling’s wannanbe-playboy image in the Fox News room. I’m talking about indicators coming from Bolling himself and his own legal team.

Even Bolling’s lawyers appear to know that this lawsuit is nothing more than a PR stunt on his part. The lawsuit filed today in Supreme Court, New York County was initiated via “summons with notice.” That means there’s no formal complaint just yet (New York State allows civil actions to be commenced this way, with the specific allegations filed supplementally later). In many cases, lawyers choose to commence via summons with notice to get a lawsuit filed quickly, before a statute of limitations runs out. But that wasn’t the case with Bolling’s suit; he had all the time in the world to wait and file a normal complaint. Wednesday’s filing, signed by Michael J. Bowe of Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP (yes, the very same Kasowitz that represents Bolling’s friend Donald Trump) likely chose this method of filing in order to be intentionally vague.

Will Rupert Murdoch’s latest effort to take over actually be stopped again? It certainly should be, but Murdoch has a friend in Number 10 Downing Street, so a little patience might be all he needs to see this deal through. Still, it is also true that opposition to the deal continues to grow, and if Murdoch cannot control his editors and producers, another story like the Seth Rich story may be all that is needed to up end his takeover.

Financial Times, David Bond:

Fresh blow to Murdoch bid to take control of Sky

The UK culture secretary has asked the British media watchdog to assess new evidence relating to 21st Century Fox’s £11.7bn bid to seize full control of Sky, dealing a blow to the US media group’s hope of a swift referral to the country’s competition authorities…

…The move comes after a new lawsuit was filed in the US last week alleging that Fox News colluded with the Donald Trump administration to “disseminate fake news” on the murder of the Democratic aide Seth Rich.

Rod Wheeler, a former detective, says quotes were fabricated under his name to support a Fox News story that Mr Rich was killed to prevent him from talking about his alleged role in providing WikiLeaks with the trove of Democratic emails that damaged Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.

Reuters, Ben Martin:

Sky investor Odey says Fox bid is losing appeal

Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey is considering withdrawing his support for Twenty-First Century Fox’s attempt to take over Sky , saying the 11.7 billion-pound ($15.20 billion) offer undervalues the British pay TV broadcaster.

Odey, who is the 15th biggest Sky shareholder with a 1 percent stake, told Reuters in a telephone interview that regulatory delays have caused him to reconsider his support for Fox’s 10.75 pound-a-share offer for the 61 percent of Sky it does not already own…

“The truth is, the longer this goes on the more that I would be quite happy if it failed,” Odey said, adding that Fox is “getting it at what now looks like quite a cheap price” and that the offer is “now starting to look rather mean.”

But while Murdoch fights to save his Sky takeover, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group deal to acquire the stations of Tribune Media could run into trouble not due to liberal objections, they have no influence at the FCC or White House today, but from objections from conservatives concerned that Sinclair

HuffPost, Michael Calderone:

Conservative Media Voices Line Up Against Trump-Friendly Sinclair’s Purchase Of Tribune

One America News CEO Charles Herring blasted the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to relax media ownership rules, a move that could pave the way for Sinclair’s $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media and allow the broadcast company to extend its reach into more than 70 percent of U.S. homes.

“Utilizing the ‘UHF discount,’ which is an antiquated, irrelevant regulation, is really politics at its worst,” Herring said Monday, referring to a loophole around a federal cap limiting ownership to 39 percent of the national audience…

…The Sinclair deal has also rankled 21st Century Fox executive chairman and Trump friend Rupert Murdoch, who unsuccessfully vied for Tribune earlier this year. Bloomberg reported last week that 21st Century Fox has threatened to shift local Fox affiliates away from Sinclair and to Ion Media Networks, the latest dispute in a decades-long feud between Murdoch and Sinclair.

Murdoch is fighting not only to maintain and grow his media empire, but to maintain influence of the president and his administration. That is why he was so willing to allow Fox News to promote its blatantly false story about the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. But once it became a liability, the story was quickly killed.

Murdoch’s problem in the White House is that there is a player there with his own media interests: White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who manages to be more right-wing that even the old Australian, and who probably sees Murdoch’s media more as a rival than an ally.

No wonder then that Breitbart News this morning is going after Murdoch in retaliation for an editorial in The Wall Street Journal that praises Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster for firing staffers aligned with Bannon, and which accuses alt-right media of trying to get him fired.

The Wall Street Journal, Editorial:

McMaster and the Commander

Chief of Staff John Kelly is by all accounts imposing more discipline in the Trump White House, but a mini-drama of the last week shows there’s still more clean-up duty to be done. To wit, notice the alt-right brigades who seem to rise up as if on call to smite some White House policy opponent of aide Steve Bannon.

The latest target has been H.R. McMaster, the three-star general who took over as national security adviser after President Trump fired Michael Flynn. Lt. Gen. McMaster has come in for abuse for favoring more troops and a new strategy in Afghanistan, for warning that Vladimir Putin is no friend of America, and for advising that Mr. Trump not precipitously withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. He also recently dismissed some NSC staff members who were brought on by Mr. Flynn and are said to be allies of Mr. Bannon.

Breitbart News, Tony Lee:

Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal Tries to Take Over Trump White House for McMaster, Globalists

The Wall Street Journal and its publisher Rupert Murdoch appear to be using President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster as their latest weapon in their continuing battle against Trump’s America-first agenda and movement that enabled Trump to shock the world on election night…

…Murdoch–as Joshua Green reported in his book Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency–seems to have always held those working-class nationalists in contempt.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka reportedly wanted to break the news that her dad was going to enter the presidential race to Murdoch at a lunch. But Murdoch had so much disdain for Trump’s pro-nationalist platform and was so dismissive of Trump’s potential candidacy and chances of winning that he royally dissed Trump and his daughter right to their faces:

Soon after the three of them were seated and the waiter brought their soup, Ivanka spoke up: “My father has something to tell you.”
“What’s that?” Murdoch said.
“He’s going to run for president.”
“He’s not running for president,” Murdoch replied without looking up from his soup.
“No, he is!” she insisted.
Murdoch changed the subject.
Trump nursed the slight for months. “He didn’t even look up from his soup!” he’d complain.

The president has many right-wing media supporters, and one of his biggest is David Pecker, head of American Media Inc., the publisher of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer.

UK media people may be surprised to learn that the National Enquirer, while well known, is really a weak sister to the British tabs. Times have changed, and with many grocery stores seeing more profits in pushing chewing gun and candy at the check out stand rather than slimy tabloids, the publication’s readership, and hence its influence, has declined sharply in recent years.

A decade ago, the tabloid had a circulation of over 1.1 million, with almost 800,000 single copy sales per issue. In its last audit, the tab could only show just over 300,000 total circulation as newsstand sales fell to 216,530.

Still, Pecker is going to make sure that whatever readership it still has, it is aligned with the president. And this week, reacting to the news that former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s house was raided by the FBI, and fearing that he may turn on the president, the National Enquirer was ready to pounce:

Paul Manafort

DCReport, David Cay Johnston:

It Looks Like Trump Is Throwing Over Manafort

Donald Trump went to war Tuesday with his former campaign manager, the global influence peddler and Kremlin-friendly Paul Manafort. We know this because of the top article in today’s National Enquirer, which often acts as an attack dog for Trump and hushes up stories he wants to be kept quiet…

…The supermarket tabloid is published by a long-time Trump associate. David Pecker, the CEO of American Media, which owns the National Enquirer, previously ran another organization, which published Trump Style, a magazine given away free at Trump properties.

The damaging story is itself of no consequence to anyone but the Manafort family and his supposed mistress, who wasn’t named. To most news organizations a rich older man having a mistress is no more news than “commercial jetliner lands safely.”

But the publication in which it appeared, its long relationship to Trump as both protector and attack dog as well as the timing of the piece all point to Trump turning on Manafort, who is 68 years old.

So, McMaster and Manafort are both being targeted. Who is next? Maybe Chief of Staff John Kelly, he is featured on this week’s cover of TIME Magazine, and we all know how Trump hates it when his people overshadow him.

But for right now, it appears to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who unwisely said publicly that he tought the president was naive concerning what he expected to pass the Congress.

“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before,” said McConnell to CNN affiliate WCPO. “I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”

That led the president to begin targeting McConnell via Twitter, just as he had Attorney General Jeff Sessions a couple weeks ago.

The Washington Post, John Wagner:

Trump steps up attacks on McConnell for failure on health-care reform

Trump has remained bitter about the failure of congressional Republicans to pass a bill overhauling the Affordable Care Act, a pledge the party has made since 2010 and a marquee campaign promise for Trump.

The sparring with McConnell was the latest sign of increasingly strained relations between Trump and Republicans in Congress, who have had few victories since January despite the GOP’s control of the White House and both the House and Senate.

Since the collapse of a health-care bill, Trump has belittled GOP senators as looking like “fools” and suggested they change the chamber’s rules to make it easier to pass bills.

US News & World Report, Pat Garofalo:

Mitch McConnell Made His Bed

This episode of GOP infighting is a nice reminder of two things: The first is that when it comes to the business of government, and particularly legislating, Trump is indeed less informed than someone who has taken in a few episodes of “Schoolhouse Rock.” The second is that Trump is a Republican only out of convenience, and that the bet GOP higher-ups made to go along with him as their standard-bearer always had the potential to blow up in their faces.

On that first point, during the depths of the health care debate, Trump was not only worthless to the GOP cause, but an outright hindrance to it, despite his repeated exhortations that dealing with the matter would be oh so very easy once he was elected. His inability to describe any of the legislative details in even the vaguest terms made him unable to sell the plan on its supposed merits. He first held a White House ceremony to celebrate the passage of the House’s repeal bill, then turned around and called it “mean.” He even seemed to confuse the very concept of health insurance with that of life insurance.

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