Last week two of Rupert Murdoch’s papers ran editorials critical of Trump on the same day, causing the commentariat to chatter about whether it was a coincidence or something more. Probably a coincidence, I thought. What are the odds that the 91-year-old Murdoch or his powerful son Lachlan is dialing up editors to push some official anti-Trump line from the very top of NewsCorp?
Evidence that Fox News and other Murdoch properties are trying to steer Republicans away from Trump has been building. A report last year noting Ron DeSantis’s many appearances on Fox quoted one producer as saying, “We see him as the future of the party.” He appeared twice in primetime just last week; meanwhile, the Times points out today that Trump hasn’t been interviewed on Fox since mid-April. His rallies typically aren’t carried live anymore either even though the network found time to air an entire Mike Pence speech last week. Even Trump’s favorite Fox show has taken to noting how well DeSantis is polling against him, which earned them a rebuke from the man himself on Truth Social about having gone over to “the dark side.”
Trump’s nationalist allies have also noticed a change:
Steve Bannon either believes he controls the American Right with his podcast, or just wants people to think that. pic.twitter.com/Pxzfmdb7CK
— Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) July 31, 2022
The competition has been watching it play out as well and is eager to capitalize. Two weeks ago Newsmax host Eric Bolling scolded his old network for hyping DeSantis at Trump’s expense. And not long before that, his colleague Greg Kelly urged DeSantis to stand aside in 2024 and let the former guy take one more crack at the White House. Newsmax is obviously positioning itself to become Trump’s new favorite network, with the huge ratings boost that would come with that, ahead of the Trump/DeSantis primary war.
What do the Murdochs have to do with the split between Trump and Fox? A lot, according to the Times’s sources.
The skepticism toward the former president extends to the highest levels of the company, according to two people with knowledge of the thinking of Mr. Murdoch, the chairman, and his son Lachlan, the chief executive. It also reflects concerns that Republicans in Washington, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have expressed to the Murdochs about the potential harm Mr. Trump could cause to the party’s chances in upcoming elections, especially its odds of taking control of the Senate.
The Murdochs’ discomfort with Mr. Trump stems from his refusal to accept his election loss, according to two people familiar with those conversations, and is generally in sync with the views of Republicans, like Mr. McConnell, who mostly supported the former president but long ago said the election was settled and condemned his efforts to overturn it.
One person familiar with the Murdochs’ thinking said they remained insistent that Fox News had made the right call when its decision desk projected that Joseph R. Biden would win Arizona just after 11 p.m. on the night of the election — a move that infuriated Mr. Trump and short-circuited his attempt to prematurely declare victory. This person said Lachlan Murdoch had privately described the decision desk’s call, which came days before other networks concluded that Mr. Trump had lost the state, as something only Fox “had the courage and science to do.”
Right, the MAGA demagoguery of Fox’s premature but ultimately correct call of Arizona is one reason for the Murdochs to ditch him. Another is potential liability: The last thing they need while they’re being sued by Dominion for defamation is Trump blathering on camera about election-rigging. (A trial date in the Dominion suit was set on April 12 of this year. Maybe not coincidentally, Trump’s last interview on Fox was just a day later.) And as the excerpt notes, denying him coverage is a way for Fox to do its part to keep the midterm focus on Biden and inflation instead of on the Democrats’ favorite foil.
Maybe it’s temporary. The rift over the Arizona call will heal. The Dominion trial will end at some point. The midterms will be over in three months. If Trump’s 2024 primary polling remains strong, with DeSantis seemingly unable to make headway, it’s a cinch that the powers that be at NewsCorp will pivot back to being Team Trump. Business is business, after all.
But it’s interesting that not one but two major papers have stories this weekend citing sources who say the Murdochs are unhappy with Trump. Do Rupert and Lachlan want that known publicly? Why? And why now? WaPo:
[A]s Trump inches closer to a third presidential run under the glare of criminal, civil and governmental investigations, multiple associates of Murdoch told The Washington Post that it appears he has lost his enthusiasm for Trump…
He remains an avid news consumer, and during the Jan. 6 hearings, Murdoch has been calling various executives to discuss revelations the committee has unearthed, according to five current and former Murdoch executives who have talked to him about the proceedings and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations…
A Fox News on-air personality, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid, expressed doubt that Trump’s biggest boosters at the network “would ever turn on him” but suggested that hosts might prod viewers toward alternatives for the next Republican president — those they think stand a better chance at re-empowering the conservative movement.
Among those “various executives” to whom he’s spoken are allegedly the editor-in-chief of the New York Post and the opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, coincidentally the same two papers that recently ran anti-Trump editorials following the latest primetime January 6 hearing. Maybe Murdoch is sincerely troubled by what the committee has found and believes, for the sake of the country, that it’s time for Republicans to pivot away from Trump.
But he can’t be too troubled. Fox continued to air its normal evening programming during the committee’s primetime hearings instead of carrying them live. And network anchors like Tucker and Hannity routinely disparage the committee as partisan and irrelevant, whatever the Murdochs may think of it. Again: Business is business. If Fox viewers remain stuck on Trump in the primaries, the Murdochs will stay stuck on him too. However unhappily.