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SPIELING FOR DOLLARS 'AMERICAN CANDIDATE' TO PROSTITUTE CAMPAIGNERS.

Byline: Joseph Honig Local View

AFTER luring newspaper readers with nude models and television viewers with seamy, down-market fare, media baron Rupert Murdoch has decided to make American politics pay - for himself.

Over the next two years, Murdoch's Fox television empire will broadcast a series announced as ``American Candidate,'' in which unheralded nobodys will compete for the chance to run for president in 2004.

Murdoch's talent scouts will be looking for camera-ready Jesse Ventura types, appealing plumbers or tell-it-like-it-is assembly line workers.

They will also be looking for ratings, advertisers and millions of dollars.

The canny Murdoch - he gave us ``American Idol'' and ``Celebrity Boxing'' - will be selling corn flakes or deodorant along with carefully selected political naifs.

He can't lose. But we can.

For there is something terribly wrong about capitalizing on everyone's electoral frustrations. If Australia-born Murdoch were truly concerned about his adopted country - he sought citizenship in the first place to buy television stations - he would not turn politics into a cynical, for-profit entertainment.

But for Citizen Murdoch, every institution, emotion or vice is fair game when it comes to the cash register.

His broadcasts have asked young women to marry strangers, taunted couples toward infidelity and showcased fatal car wrecks.

If there is a sensational, Ripleyesque subject or protagonist, Murdoch will light up his cameras.

And audiences - tens of millions of bored, couch-bound, semiliterate Americans - will watch.

So now Rupert is on to politics, apparently in need of new depths to mine. If past performance is any indicator, serious men and women need not apply.

Yes, Murdoch's henchmen may insist they will scour the nation for compelling, concerned, independent voices. Though when it comes to Fox, the outrageous always wins.

More than a year ago, Murdoch programmers told anyone who would listen they would rather fail with quality than succeed with the dross that created their brand. Few were surprised when Fox featured scandal stars Tonya Harding and Paula Jones boxing with washed-up sitcom actors. Rupert, after all, has a lifestyle to support.

Thus it is a better-than-even-money proposition that Murdoch and company are counting on the Jesse Ventura factor, betting they can cash in on larger-than-life demagogues like the fictional Howard Beale in ``Network'' (``I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore'').

It is also reasonable to assume that thoughtful, educated and accomplished hopefuls will be told, ``No thanks, try the Libertarians or Greens.''

No doubt viewers of ``American Candidate'' will be presented with isolationist strippers, supply-side masseuses and environmentalist escorts.

There are opinionated Americans everywhere. Some must be rather telegenic, ready to expose themselves to fellow citizens hungry for the next outsize game show. Ready to be the next human foils in Murdoch's money machine.

Regrettably, lines between serious thought and diversion are already hazy. Too many Americans believe they have watched the news after viewing ``Entertainment Tonight.''

This hardly seems to trouble the Pharaoh of Fox. Time was when political kingmakers enriched themselves with post-election influence-peddling or sweetheart government contracts.

In our brave new electronic age, all Rupert Murdoch has to do is sell soap.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 29, 2002
Words:517
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