Rupert Murdoch wants everyone to know that Fox News doesn't start playground fights -- but it's not afraid of them, either.
On a conference call to discuss News Corp.'s (NWS) fiscal first-quarter earnings, the 78-year-old chairman, dialing in from Sydney, Australia, was asked about reports that Fox News had agreed to a "cease-fire" in its war of words with MSNBC, and about a recent White House effort to isolate and discredit his network.
"We did not start this abuse, which we thought went way beyond," Murdoch said about the hostilities with MSNBC, implying that it was the rival network's commentator Keith Olbermann and colleagues who had initiated them. "It was personal and went way beyond -- not on me but on others. Finally, we had to allow people to retaliate. The moment they stop, we'll stop. We don't believe in it, and we don't think it's good business."
"As for the tensions with the White House," he continued, "I think they overplayed it. It's probably been good for us in terms of ratings."
Murdoch noted that other news networks voiced support for Fox after Obama Administration officials attempted to bar the channel from a pool interview with executive pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. "All our competitors...immediately went to the White House and complained and said, 'This is not the way to treat anybody in the media,'" Murdoch said.
"We haven't really had any continuing problem there at all. We cover them, and they have said publicly that we are absolutely fair in our reporting of the White House. They just don't like one or two of our commentators, which we understand."
Murdoch was also asked about a pledge he made on last quarter's earnings call that all News Corp. news websites would adopt pay models by the end of the company's fiscal year in July 2010. He took the opportunity to back down from that goal. "We are working all very, very hard at this, but I wouldn't promise we're going to meet that date," he said. It's a work in progress and there's a huge amount of work going on."
The media conglomerate had a decent quarter, saying its quarterly profit rose 11 percent to $571 million, or 22 cents per share, from $515 million, or 20 cents per share, a year earlier, topping Wall Street's expectations. News Corp. shares closed more than 1 percent higher at $13.65.
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