NEW YORK – Rupert Murdoch has never been shy about voicing a political opinion, using his worldwide empire of television and newspaper outlets to promote conservative causes.
Now, with a raft of complaints about Republican Mitt Romney, the billionaire media baron is signaling that he intends to boost his visibility in U.S. politics – even if it comes at the expense of the man conservatives hope can defeat President Obama.
Murdoch is the founder and CEO of global media conglomerate News Corp., which owns several outlets popular with conservatives in the U.S., including Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
Until now, Murdoch has been far less influential in U.S. politics than in his native Australia and in England – at least until a recent phone hacking scandal involving several Murdoch-owned newspapers shook his status as a fearsome power broker.
The scandal forced the departure of many Murdochs deputies, peeling away a protective layer around him while also liberating him to take such risks as openly criticizing Romney, some who know him say.
Murdoch, 81, a naturalized U.S. citizen, chose to launch his critique of Romney on Twitter, the social networking site where information is exchanged in 140-character blasts known as tweets.
When is Romney going to look like a challenger? Seems to play everything safe, make no news except burn of Hispanics, Murdoch tweeted June 24.
Easy for Romney to spell out restoration of the American dream and bash incompetent administration. But not a word! he said later that day.
Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless (Romney) drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful, Murdoch tweeted Sunday.
On Monday, Murdoch appeared to acknowledge his tweets might be causing consternation for the Romney campaign.
Romney people upset at me! Of course I want him to win, save us from socialism, etc but should listen to good advice and get stuck in!
The Wall Street Journals editorial page followed Murdochs lead Thursday, unleashing a surprisingly harsh attack on the Romney campaigns response to the Supreme Courts affirmation of Obamas health care law.
News Corp. purchased the Journal in 2007, and the papers editorial page is viewed as an authoritative voice among conservatives.
The Journal responded to mixed messages from the Romney campaign about whether the mandate to buy health insurance constituted a tax as the court suggested, calling the confusion politically dumb.
Michael Wolff, author of The Man Who Owns the News, a Murdoch biography, said Murdochs use of Twitter reflects a new determination to address politics using his own voice and to carve out a separate identity from Fox News, which has grown more conservative than Murdoch himself over time.
Hes not a Fox conservative, and hes not a tea party conservative. Thats why hes angry about Romney, Wolff said. Romney is closer to a Murdoch conservative, but he is now pandering to the conservative wing of the party that Murdoch has always had contempt for.
Judd Legum, who has researched Murdoch for the liberal Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, agreed that Murdoch was attempting to separate himself from Fox but for a different reason: He believes the network had gone too easy on Romney.
Theyve positioned Fox News to be largely supportive of Romney, with lots of sympathetic interviews, Legum said. Murdoch is suggesting another approach. He wants to push Romney into a more aggressive posture.