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POLITICS WATCH : Time for a Divorce

Last Nov. 28 Newt Gingrich, just weeks away from being elected Speaker of the House, met privately with Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate who has pending business before Congress involving ownership of Fox television network. A few weeks later, HarperCollins Publishing, which is part of the Murdoch empire, offered Gingrich a book contract eventually valued at $4.5 million. News of that deal broke last month, and led not just to elevated eyebrows but to considerable bipartisan criticism of what many saw as simply too cozy an arrangement between one of Congress’ most influential members and a powerful businessman who is looking to Congress for legislative relief.

In response to the furor, Gingrich rightly offered to give up the $4.5 million advance and instead just collect royalties on actual book sales. Seeking further to diminish suspicions that he is involved in a conflict of interest, Gingrich also subsequently claimed he had no idea HarperCollins was owned by Murdoch. If that was the case, here surely was an example of fortuitous if not blissful ignorance.

Confirmation this week that Gingrich and Murdoch had met and talked about the challenge regarding ownership of Fox, just days before the mind-boggling book offer was made, inevitably fuels suspicions about a possible conflict of interest on the Speaker’s part. The best remedy--the minimum ethical step that can be taken--is for Gingrich and HarperCollins promptly to sever their relationship and for the Speaker to seek another publisher.


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