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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Truth Sometimes Outs. Not That It Matters Anymore.

In January of last year, I spent some time working on a story for the Chicago Tribune about political donations by folks in the television business. It was a highly political time for television (indecency, media consolidation) and the presidential campaign was heating up, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how TV executives, writers, etc. give. Also of note, of course, was the surprisingly high number of television news employees donating to political campaigns.

One of them was Bert Solivan, then the vice president for news information at Fox News Channel and general manager of Foxnews.com. He made two $240 donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2003. Others included Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto ($1000 to Republicans), and Griff Jenkins, Oliver North's producer ($2,000 to, um, Republicans).

So when I called Fox News Channel to seek comment and confirm the donations (I actually called the individuals who made the donations, who referred the calls to a press rep, who yelled at me for having the gall to actually call people directly, rather than seek her permission first), one of the things she insisted was that Bert Solivan wasn't an editorial employeee. His job was strictly technical, she said, he was basically an IT executive, and he should have no more scrutiny over his political giving than an ad sales guy. He made no news decisions. That was difficult to believe--his title was vice president for news information and general manager of Foxnews.com, after all--but I couldn't find anybody else at Fox willing to talk about Solivan's job duties and whether an executive with authority over news decisions was active in Republican politics.

It turned out to be moot because Howard Kurtz came out with the same story while I was working on mine, and I dropped it. But I was always curious that he never mentioned Bert Solivan in his story, since Solivan was actually the highest-ranking apparent news executive who made political donations (higher-ups like NBC's Bob Wright give plenty, but that's less objectionable). He must have been convinced, I thought, by Fox's line that Solivan was just a techie with a grand-sounding title. He ended his piece with, "Many of the other media employees in the FEC records worked in business or technical jobs or are no longer employed by those outlets."

I write all this because today I finally found out what Bert Solivan's job was. He was promoted yesterday to executive vice president of Fox Interactive Media, News Corp's new internet unit. According to the press release, his former duties at Fox News Channel "included overseeing Fox News' 24-hour news research department and its on-air fact writing operations."