Murdoch’s Denials of Political Favors Hard to Swallow in New York

Former Mayor Edward I. Koch said he was in his West Village apartment early one morning in 1977 when the phone rang and the man on the other end of the line said, “Good morning, Congressman. It’s Rupert.”

“I say to myself: ‘Rupert? That’s not a Jewish name. Who could be calling me named Rupert?’ ”

Then, Mr. Koch said, he recognized an Australian accent. It was Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of The New York Post.

“ ‘I don’t know if it will help, but we are endorsing you on the front page of The New York Post,’ ” Mr. Koch recalls Mr. Murdoch telling him.

“I said, ‘Rupert, you have just elected me.’ ”

Mr. Murdoch’s relationships with British politicians from Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron were dissected this week during his two days of testimony before a judicial inquiry in London looking into the phone hacking scandal that has shaken the media mogul’s $60 billion News Corporation. Throughout his testimony, Mr. Murdoch adamantly denied ever using his considerable political influence to win favor for his business interests.

So what about Mr. Murdoch’s relationships with politicians here in New York City,  where he bought The New York Post in 1976, founded the Fox News Channel in 1996 and purchased The Wall Street Journal in 2007?

Without question, Mr. Koch said in an interview on Thursday, Mr. Murdoch’s decision to use The New York Post to throw its support behind his candidacy helped him defeat Mario Cuomo in the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary, the runoff and then in the general election.

“That made the difference between winning and losing, and I am very grateful,” Mr. Koch said about the endorsement.

What did Rupert want in return? “He never, ever in the course of the 12 years that I was there asked me for a single thing, except one small thing,” Mr. Koch recalled.

Mr. Koch said he remembered getting a request from a representative of The New York Post to temporarily lift the ban on trucks using the West Side and East Side Highways so The Post could get its newspapers out more quickly during a newspaper strike. “I said, sure,” Mr. Koch said.

But things were different with Rudolph W. Giuliani’s administration.

In 1989, Mr. Murdoch’s New York Post endorsed Mr. Giuliani over David N. Dinkins, who became the city’s first African-American mayor. Mr. Giuliani’s campaign manager, as it turns out, was Roger E. Ailes, who would go on to start and run Fox News.

In 1993, Mr. Giuliani defeated Mr. Dinkins’s bid for a second term, becoming mayor in 1994. Two years later, Mr. Ailes was the founding chief executive officer of Fox News, a subsidiary of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Mr. Murdoch said in London that he did not use his political ties for his business interests, but he and his executives did turn to Mayor Giuliani for help after the Time Warner Cable New York City Group rejected their request for Fox News to have a channel, according to court records and news accounts at the time.

In an interview on Thursday, Richard Aurelio, then the president of Time Warner Cable New York City Group, said there were only 80 channels in the city when the Fox News 24-hour channel began in the fall of 1996 and wanted access to Time Warner’s 1.1 million New York City cable customers.

Mr. Aurelio, a former deputy mayor for John Lindsay, said he told Fox News that he would not have a channel to give them until more channels became available when they went digital.

Fox News did not want to wait. My colleague Clifford Levy reported in 1996 that Mr. Ailes contacted Mr. Giuliani to try to persuade Time Warner to change its position.

Then, on Oct. 1, 1996, at a launch party for the new Fox News Channel, Mr. Murdoch himself expressed concern about the situation to some of New York’s leading politicians who attended, including Mr. Giuliani, Gov. George E. Pataki and Dennis C. Vacco, the state attorney general.

“He complained to them at the party that I was the big bottleneck, and that I refused to carry Fox News,” Mr. Aurelio said. “They tried to put pressure on me. I said, ‘I can’t help you right now.’ ”

Mr. Aurelio also got a call from Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato. “Both Pataki and D’Amato were pretty pleasant about it,” he said. “They didn’t twist any arms. They were unhappy. But, it seemed to me, in their case, they were doing it because they were asked to do it by Murdoch.”

Mr. Aurelio said Mr. Giuliani and his staff took a different approach. “He summoned us down to City Hall, and had one of his advisers try to browbeat me.”

Then, the Giuliani administration decided to help Fox News by turning over one of the city’s five municipal channels, as Mr. Levy reported.

“This was illegal,” Mr. Aurelio said. “We got an injunction and the court agreed.”

To “Time Warner executives,” Mr. Levy reported, “the contacts demonstrate that Mr. Murdoch, a prominent conservative who also owns The New York Post, wields excessive influence over the mayor.”

Mr. Giuliani was unavailable to comment on Friday, according to an aide. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ailes did not immediately respond to a request to speak to him.

There are other examples of a cozy relationship between the News Corporation and the Giuliani administration, as the investigative reporter Wayne Barrett described in The Daily Beast last year.

In 1996, Mr. Giuliani and his aides fiercely defended their conversations with the News Corporation. They emphasized that their interest was in protecting local jobs.

Protecting jobs prompts elected officials to do a lot on behalf of business owners, even when they don’t benefit from Mr. Murdoch’s media empire. Mr. Murdoch did not endorse former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo during the 1977 mayoral race and urged Mayor Koch to run for governor against him in the 1980s. But Mr. Cuomo recalled in an interview on Friday that he helped Mr. Murdoch on multiple occasions, including winning a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission so that Mr. Murdoch could run The New York Post.

“The paper beat me to a pulp, but my feeling was that 800 jobs or so were on the line,” he said.

Finally, after Mr. Aurelio retired in July 1997, Mr. Murdoch got the channel for Fox News on Time Warner’s cable system in New York City.

At the same time, another New York City media mogul got a channel on Time Warner for his cable programming. The Giuliani administration was looking to help him, as well.

That mogul’s name was Michael R. Bloomberg.

What did Mr. Murdoch have to say about Mr. Bloomberg during his testimony in London this week?

In response to a question about the perception that he trades political support for favors, Mr. Murdoch cited Mr. Bloomberg as proof that was not the case.

“I think it’s a myth,” he said about political influence. “And everything I do every day, I think, proves it to be such. Have a look at — well, it’s not relevant, but how I treat Mayor Bloomberg in New York. Sends him crazy. But we support him every time he runs for re-election.”

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