The GOP sends its thanks to Fox

Four Republican senators introduce legislation that will regulate Nielsen in away that makes News Corp. very happy. Wonder who wrote the bill?

Published July 13, 2005 5:38PM (EDT)

Fox News has carried the water of the Bush White House for so long now that a reporter from another news organization felt free to refer to the network as a "Republican surrogate" during one of this week's White House press briefings. No one argued with him, and there's not much of an argument to make. Earlier this month, Fox's "Supreme Court analyst" told viewers he was confident that the president would appoint a Supreme Court nominee "of the highest caliber who will command respect across the board unless vilified by the left, and our job is to try to help to make sure that doesn't happen." This week, Fox's Carl Cameron has been working overtime to explain away prior White House comments about the Valerie Plame case. And just yesterday, Fox's John Gibson -- taking a page from the Wall Street Journal playbook -- said that Karl Rove deserves a "medal" for outing the CIA analyst.

Yes, Fox has been very, very good to the GOP, and now Republicans in the Senate seem to think it's time to return the favor. As Roll Call is reporting, four Republican senators are pushing a bill that would require previously unregulated Nielsen Media Research -- the company behind the Nielsen ratings -- to clear any changes in its rating methodology with a private industry group before implementing them.

"At issue," Roll Call says, "is new digital technology the company is deploying to try to better gauge which television programs are being watched in local markets. Nielsen contends that the new method is more accurate, but broadcasters counter that it undercounts several demographic groups, which threatens to sap millions of dollars in advertising revenue from shows their affiliates broadcast locally." (Full disclosure: In a prior life as a lawyer, we represented a Nielsen company briefly in a small legal matter unrelated to television ratings.)

Although the Senate bill was introduced by Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and co-sponsored by Republican Sens. George Allen, Mel Martinez and Olympia Snow, Roll Call says that, "According to the file-creation record attached to the electronic version, an early working draft of the bill was written by David Leach, a former Democratic staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who now works as an outside lobbyist for News Corp," which owns Fox. Leach isn't talking: "Im not going to confirm or deny writing the draft, Leach told Roll Call, then refused to say anything further.

Other media organizations -- among them, Gannett and the Tribune Company -- have also sought government regulation of Nielsen, but Roll Call says that their lobbyists insist they had "no hand in crafting the language." For his part, Burns says he took input from all interested parties before introducing his bill. "However, at the end of the day, I took the legislative approach I thought most appropriate to deal with this situation," he said in a statement. "I felt this approach, which does not involve any kind of government oversight, will help keep the system transparent and accountable to TV programmers, broadcasters, advertisers, and the public."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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