Murdoch plays politics at Milken event

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Rupert Murdoch wore his politics on his sleeve Tuesday, telling a large audience of business leaders that the press is routinely unfair to George W. Bush and that the president doesn't seem capable of defending himself.

"I'm a supporter of President Bush, but I do believe he's a bad -- or inadequate -- communicator," Murdoch told attendees at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.

The News Corp. chairman and CEO said that, personally, Bush is "persuasive, strong and articulate" but that "he seems to freeze whenever a television camera appears."

Motioning to Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch said, "Apart from your newspaper and mine, there's a sort of monolithic attack on him every day of the year."

News Corp. is the parent company of Fox News Channel, the New York Post and dozens of other media assets.

"The atmosphere is absolutely toxic," Murdoch said of the partisanship of U.S. politics and much of the media. "You can't really expect anything to be achieved in the next 18 months, and it's a very serious, sad problem for this country."

Murdoch also lamented a U.S. populace that can't agree on how serious a threat militant Islam is, and he suggested skepticism about the danger of man-made global warning.

The environment is a long-running theme at the Milken event, now in its 10th year. In the past, former Vice President Al Gore has promoted his message about the perils of global warming, and this year Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., did likewise.

But Murdoch said that "alleged climate changes" and other problems are far more manageable than is the threat of Islamic terror, which will worsen significantly if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

"It's a tragedy that we're not more united" in the war on terror, Murdoch said.

He praised Internet technologies for helping to usher individual freedom to places where it's not the norm, and he lamented the difficulties he has had in doing business with China, where, "the fact is, media is pretty much closed."

He touted India, though, as a good place to do business because its political structure at the top is "absolutely clean."

He said that News Corp. has taken two cases to the Indian supreme court and has won both times.

"It is a real, working democracy," he said.

Also on the stage with Murdoch were Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker; Guy Laffineur, head of debt capital markets at Calyon; and David Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group.

Rubenstein said China and India are poised to be the largest economies in the world in about 30 years but that India needs to improve its infrastructure and China's system isn't exactly set up to make outside investors rich.

Carlyle has dozens of investments in media, including AMC Entertainment, PanAmSat and the Nielsen Group, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

Rubenstein suggested that private-equity investors might not be pricing risk into their investments to the degree they ought to be because, judging from the rising prices of investments and easy lending, the U.S. economy might be in for a slight downturn.

Asked for the industries he would invest in during a slowing economy, he named emerging markets, renewable resources, infrastructure, commodities and defense, but he didn't mention media.

Before the luncheon discussion on the global economy, Murdoch competitor Sumner Redstone announced a $105 million donation for medical research, including $35 million for Milken's FasterCures initiative.

The executive chairman of Viacom told of how he survived a 1979 hotel fire that doctors thought would have killed him and how he has adopted an anti-oxidant diet.

Quipped Michael Milken while introducing Redstone, "He's a person who is younger today than when I financed him 20 years ago."
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