You didn’t have to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 to discover that the Bush family, senior and junior, have had a special relationship with the Saudis for along time (in the film Moore showed that the administration, when they had grounded all commercial flights immediately after 9/11, was lifted preferentially to permit a plane full of Saudis to return home from the United States).
Or that Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense in the Pentagon’s clique running Bush’s war policy, admitted in a Vanity Fair article that they wanted to put a strong military presence in the entire Persian Gulf and Iraq was chosen because it was the most “convenient” (his word). But, of course, not Saudi Arabia.
But Rupert Murdoch? The bulldozer media baron that pulled strings and evaded national laws to build his global media empire, running rough shod over politicians and other media companies that got in his way? If the New York Times for November 17 has it right, John Malone, a minor stockholder in Murdoch’s News Corporation and owner of a relatively minor media firm compared to the five or six giants, suddenly increased his shares in Rupert’s News Corp and Rupert finds himself in danger of losing control of his empire to this once-friendly Denver multi-millionaire.
So in panic, Rupert needs money and allies to defeat an attempt to take over his empire, once considered invulnerable. Where has he turned? The same place that the Bushes have turned for years, the Saudi royal family, whose Prince Walid bin Talal, who has heavy investments in media companies, originally had 3 percent of non-voting stock in Murdoch’s News Corporation. In Rupert’s sudden desperation the Prince said he is willing to swap his small bloc of non-voting shares for enough voting shares to bail out Murdoch from his takeover danger.
This unexpected shock to Murdoch revealed how much the Saudis have been involved not only in United States media companies and other U.S. properties. The BBC once estimated that the Saudis have $750 billion invested in the United States..
Prince Walid invested $2.5 billion AOL which, of course on the dropping of the AOL name in the firm, means Walid’s money is in Time Warner, the largest media company in the world. Forbes has said the prince has a major stake in Eurodisney, plus $50 million directly in Disney. The royal family, still sitting on 25 percent of the world’s oil, are increasingly interested in media firms for both big money and massive political influence.
Forbes says they are investors in Citicorp, Apple Computer, Motorola, and the Plaza Hotel, in New York. One prince alone, Najav Fawwaz Al-Shaalar (once indicted for smuggling 4,300 pounds of cocaine in his private jet), has significant money in Apple, Priceline, Four Seasons Hotel, and Saks department store.
The Saudis conducted much of their business through a Bush family friend, James Bath, who in 1979 invested $50,000 in the Texas firm, Arbusto, which was the first oil venture of George W. Bush (who initially denied this and when the records turned up, admitted it).
The Saudi royal family consists of about 5,000 princes and with intermarriages may number 25,000. The elders are aging and failing in health. So the princes that are younger and more vigorous become the strategic investors in the United States.
Many media watchers will get mean pleasure in seeing Murdoch control suddenly threatened. He had made elaborate plans to leave the empire to his two sons. But now, a Denver multi-millionaire, has jumbled that neat picture.
And, ironically, the big money hovering in the background of an astonishing number of United States enterprises, is the vast Saudi royal money, which may be why President Bush, whose family had benefitted from Saudi money, ignored that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis and decided it was more “convenient” to invade Iraq, which had nothing to do with the horrors of 9/11.
Ben H. Bagdikian is the author of The New Media Monopoly.