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CNN, MSNBC cover News Corp. scandal more than Fox

The Associated Press, Friday, July 15, 2011, 2:07pm (PDT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Fox News Channel has discussed the British phone hacking scandal involving its parent News Corp. dozens of times over the past few weeks, but far less than the story has been reported on rivals CNN and MSNBC.

Fox faces an awkward question that hounds news organizations in these days of large corporate ownership: How do you deal with stories embarrassing to your bosses while keeping the appearance of journalistic independence?

The liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America said that through Thursday, Fox had talked about the story 37 times. Fox disputed those numbers and said that, through mid-afternoon on Friday, the story had been addressed on the network more than 50 times. Through Thursday, CNN had referenced the story 124 times, said Media Matters, and MSNBC had discussed it 85 times.

News Corp. is under fire in England for allegations that the now-shuttered News of the World newspaper engaged in widespread hacking of phone messages to get information about news subjects. Two high-level News Corp. executives resigned on Friday over the scandal.

The subject didn't emerge last weekend on "Fox News Watch," a weekly show devoted to issues surrounding the media. It has yet to be addressed on Fox's two most popular programs, prime-time shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity; Greta Van Susteren at 10 p.m. EDT has covered the story.

"It says something that Fox's prime time has basically refused to cover this story," said Ari Rabin-Havt, executive vice president of Media Matters. "Obviously, they make these decisions each day and there are other stories to be covered, but the fact that they haven't covered this once in their largest audience segments is extremely telling about the motivations of this network."

A Fox spokeswoman, Dana Klinghoffer, noted that the network has covered the story each day it has been in the news. The network declined to comment further on its decision-making.

During a segment Friday on the morning "Fox & Friends" show, Steve Doocy interviewed public relations expert Bob Dilenschneider, who suggested that other segments of the media had covered the story too much.

"You look at some sites (and) you would think that Martians have landed in New Jersey — again," Doocy said, alluding to Orson Welles' famed radio drama, "The War of the Worlds," about aliens crash landing in Grover's Mill, N.J.

Dilenschneider suggested it was time to move on from the story.

"I think you're right," Doocy said.

Tim Graham, of the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center, said that other networks have covered the story more aggressively because they dislike News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch.

"You start with the notion that we could all generally expect Fox is going to cover this less than their liberal counterparts, because it's about themselves," he said. "And how many stories have the networks done about (former NBC owner) GE not paying any corporate taxes? Was NBC all over that?"

One place on CNN where the story hasn't been addressed is Piers Morgan's prime-time hour. For two years in the 1990s Morgan was editor of the News Corp.-owned News of the World, which ended publication July 10 over allegations that reporters hacked into phone records of crime victims and others. A veteran of Britain's rough-and-tumble Fleet Street, Morgan also edited The Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004.

The experience likely gave Morgan a unique perspective shared by few others in the U.S. media.

Morgan's executive producer at CNN, Jonathan Wald, said Friday that "it hasn't crossed our threshold yet. It hasn't been a story that fits our show yet." Morgan's prime-time hour is an interview show; Wald said invitations are out to many of the people involved in the story.

Morgan said during an appearance on daytime's "The Talk" earlier this week that he expected the topic would be addressed. But he said, "I'm not going to join the Murdoch bashing."

"I've always been a big admirer of his," Morgan said on the CBS show. "He gave me my first break in journalism, you know. He made me editor of his paper when I was 28 years old and so I owe him a lot and I'm not going to join the kind of witch hunt that's been going on. At the same time, from a journalistic point of view I totally recognize it's a big scandal."

Through his spokeswoman, Meghan McPartland, Morgan declined to speak to The Associated Press on Friday about the scandal.

There has been some discussion in Britain of having Morgan appear at an official inquiry looking into the scandal, raising questions about whether the Mirror had engaged in any phone hacking while the current CNN host was editor there. Morgan said on "The Talk" that "I will be astonished if anything comes out from the papers I edited when I was there, but from what I'm reading at the moment everyone's been astonished by everything. ... But I think the papers I edited always operated within the law."

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