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ALEX BEAM

Putting tons of money where his mouth is

The 1997 James Bond thriller "Tomorrow Never Dies" featured Jonathan Pryce in a chewing-the-scenery role of a lifetime. Pryce played Elliot Carver, the Hamburg, Germany-based chief of Carver Media International. Carver is a high-tech media baddie who provokes hostilities between Britain and China to attract subscribers to his latest venture: "We have the perfect story with which to launch our satellite news network," he snarls to his retinue, while his triggermen pump bullets into British sailors -- using Chinese bullets, of course.

One could be forgiven for assuming that Carver was a caricature of Rupert Murdoch, another global media baron with a pommy accent. Like Carver, Murdoch owns newspapers all over the world that seem to print stories designed to please him. Murdoch was likewise an early investor in satellite TV networks in Europe and Asia.

Murdoch slips easily into the role of international media villain. Indeed much of the debate over Federal Communications Commission rules on media concentration inevitably refers to him. Should Murdoch be allowed to own the Fox television network, the Fox "News" Channel, his newspapers, and, now, the US-based Direct TV network?

But here's the rub: Murdoch isn't Elliot Carver. He turns out to be just another greedy, nepotistic old man. Murdoch bankrolls a purportedly conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, and makes money off of the laughable "no spin" claims of Fox News. But of course he freely greases palms on both sides of the political aisle. In reality, he is like the Roman toilet entrepreneur who famously remarked of his odiferous enterprise that "money doesn't smell."

Murdoch has no ideology at all, beyond selling lowest common denominator products (sports, sex, stupidity) to the greatest number of people. Would you like the name of a billionaire who actually has an agenda for social change, who is as rich as Murdoch, and who is the threat to democracy that many thought Murdoch was? His name is George Soros.

Soros is a fantastically wealthy currency trader and investor who has caught the Pete Peterson disease. Former secretary of commerce Peterson, like Soros, was an adept manager and wheeler-dealer who started making windy pronouncements about the fate of the world in order to be taken for a statesman. If Soros confined himself to scribbling his little-noted books, e.g. "George Soros on Globalization," that would be one thing. But he is a man of action as well.

In the last two US election cycles, Soros has spent millions of dollars on ballot initiatives to change states' drug laws, with varying results. Here in Massachusetts, he doled out $1 million backing ballot Question 8 in 2000, which would have created a Drug Treatment Trust Fund from monies seized off of dope dealers. It lost. Hilariously, the Soros-financed Open Society Institute wants "states to experiment with various approaches to reduce the pressure of money on elections and legislation, ranging from improved disclosure to full public financing of campaigns."

Another, more successful example of Soros's penchant for action: He is credited with bringing down the sclerotic and corrupt administration of Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia. "It's generally accepted public opinion here that Mr. Soros is the person who planned Shevardnadze's overthrow," the editor of an English-language daily based in Georgia told the Toronto Globe and Mail last week.

So what is Soros's latest project? Unhorsing George W. Bush. "America under Bush is a danger to the world. And I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is," Soros declared this fall, announcing he would spend more than $15 million of his personal wealth to defeat the president. Most of his money is going to the newly formed political action committee America Coming Together, which plans to mobilize anti-Bush campaigns in 17 key states that could sway the balance of power in the 2004 election.

It's a free country, and heaven knows the Republican Party has plenty of free-spending plutocrats aligned against Soros and his ilk. But it's curious, isn't it, that whenever Media Central wants to decry ideological meddling by business titans, it's always Murdoch who gets the call? Dollar for dollar, Soros is the greater threat to democracy.

Bernard "Bold Revealer of Liberal Bias in Big Media" Goldberg, check your messages.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com

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