Last month I appeared on Fox News Network’s morning show, Fox and Friends, to talk about airline security. Normally such appearances end up as clips on the Fox News Web site. Granted, the Steve Doocy interview was hardly groundbreaking, but that is seldom a criterion for feeding the beast that is a major cable network news Web site. Curiously, I was quoted in a written piece on the site that got a fair amount of pick-up, but no video.
The notorious Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, nephew to the Saudi king, met with Rupert Murdoch in Hong Kong on Jan. 14. The prince issued a press release after the meeting stating that the prince’s Kingdom Holding Company had discussions that "touched upon future potential alliances with News Corp."
By the time I appeared on Fox News, Prince Alwaleed was about to become News Corp’s fourth largest voting shareholder (behind the Murdoch family, Liberty Media, and Fidelity Management & Research Co, a mutual fund). The prince has repeatedly defended his homeland as a problem-free place. What he has failed to mention is that he has personally donated huge amounts of money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Alwaleed is the same Saudi prince who made headlines right after 9/11 when he personally went to Ground Zero and offered then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani a $10 million check for the relief efforts. But Alwaleed could not keep his mouth shut. He released a bizarre statement that blamed the attacks – not on the 15 airline hijackers from Saudi Arabia – but on the United States’ support of Israel. Giuliani, “America’s mayor,” saw a political opportunity and, confident that his reaction was appropriate, immediately refused the prince’s donation. He said: “There is no moral equivalent for this attack.”
Giuliani, who is a frequent guest on Fox shows, was widely praised at the time for turning back the prince’s money. Flash forward nine years. Since the prince upped his ante in his Fox/News Corp. holdings, we have not heard much from the normally vociferous Fox hosts.
Don Imus now hangs his hat at the Fox Business News channel. Each day the “I-Man” proves his loyalty to his new network overlords by making certain there are not too many “panty wearing liberals” visiting his glitzy new set. It is true that some of his liberal friends abandoned him after he made racist and sexist statements on his MSNBC show. But when the I-Man’s talented crew was in media exile, his producer, Bernard McGirk, helped pave the way for the show’s move from RFD-TV oblivion to Fox, thus proving that ratings trump behavior.
The prince becoming a player at News Corps is perfect fodder for the normally fearless I-Man. One Imus regular, an explosive ex-New York cop turned security expert and friend of the famous Bo Dietl, used to unload loud and unending tirades against the Saudis. But curiously, in recent appearances, Bo has been uncharacteristically restrained and has not said a word about the Saudis since Murdoch kissed the money frog that is the Saudi prince.
I never figured Imus was someone who would pass up a really easy and cheap joke. But that is just what he has done over the last few weeks. After the Fox Business News’s other top marquee name, Neil Cavuto, did an unbelievably fawning interview with the prince shortly after he increased his shares in News Corp, the Imus show continued the charade.
Remarkably, I find myself agreeing with Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan appointee who is not happy about Murdoch’s new dealings with the prince. He recently wrote:
…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 News Corp. 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…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 News Corp’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 News Corp’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.’
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 Fox News as less ‘fair and balanced’? You decide.”
The thing about the prince that can make us all rest a little easier is that he does not hide his feelings. Our friends at 60 Minutes were invited to do a profile on him in the wake of the return of his 9/11 check. The late Ed Bradley dutifully demonstrated for all to see that the prince is one of the most self indulgent of the Kingdom’s thousands of royal cousins. With a straight face the prince told Bradley: “...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.”