Democrats assailed House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) Thursday for meeting with media magnate Rupert Murdoch at the Capitol several weeks before Gingrich’s agent negotiated a $4.5 million book deal with a publishing house that Murdoch controls.
Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley said the book talks were not discussed at the Nov. 28 meeting, which he described as a “10-minute courtesy call” by Murdoch. “They only passed the time of day,” said Blankley, adding that no substantive topics were discussed, including business that Murdoch has pending before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission.
Blankley offered no specifics on exactly what the two men talked about. The only details he provided were that the meeting was held at 5:30 p.m. in the Rayburn Room, which is located off the House floor.
“The American people have a right to know whether or not Mr. Gingrich has used his public office for his own personal gain,” House Minority Whip David E. Bonior, D-Mich., said. “What was the agenda of this meeting? … What is Speaker Gingrich’s relationship to Mr. Murdoch?”
Murdoch’s News Corp. controls HarperCollins Publishers, which has agreed to publish two nonfiction works by Gingrich, the first called “To Renew America” and the second work tentatively entitled, “The Democracy Reader.” Following heavy criticism that Gingrich was cashing in on being speaker by accepting a $4.5 million advance, the Georgia lawmaker decided to take only $1 for the book contract, but would get royalties. Blankley reiterated Thursday that royalties would not exceed the industry standard of about 15 percent, and dismissed the Democratic attacks as “fantasy salvos.”
Bonior called the Murdoch meeting, disclosed in Thursday’s New York Daily News, “one more chapter in the continuing saga of Newt Gingrich’s ethical problems,” and noted that Gingrich did not mention it when he said he would forgo the advance. Rep. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., called on Gingrich to produce the book contract and called the arrangement with Murdoch’s publishing house “highly suspect.”
A Murdoch spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein, had a slightly different description of the November meeting than Blankley’s. He said Thursday that Murdoch and Gingrich sat on a bench outside the lawmaker’s old office for 15 to 20 minutes. Rubenstein agreed though that the meeting took place late in the afternoon on Nov. 28 and that they talked about “broad national issues.” Rubenstein stressed that the book negotiations were not raised.
“Mr. Murdoch first heard of the book (deal) when he was in Beijing on Dec. 23, after the agreement had been announced in this country,” he said. “I called him in Beijing one day after the story broke and he said “I’m shocked, tell me more.’ “