Has Fox News hit its ceiling?

Heirs tend to make something new and grander of the legacy operations they take control of, and they pay little energy to flattering the memories of their precursors. (The joys of pleasing your father are really overrated.) But transforming the Fox News Channel from the conservative shill operation it is would not be completely alien to the journalistic culture Rupert Murdoch has created at News Corp. and 21st Century Fox. Although we rightly associate Murdoch with tabloid news values—the New York Post, the Sun, the shuttered News of the World—producers of straight news can be found in his properties. There’s the United Kingdom’s Sky News, which he co-owns and has tried to buy outright, the Times of London and the Sunday Times. In 2007, I predicted that Murdoch would make a political plaything of the Wall Street Journal and defile it with his tabloid sensibility once in control. But I was wrong. The Journal is a different paper for his ownership, but not a diminished one.

“[The Journal] is the only top 50 paper in the country to see an increase in circulation in the past decade, so it’s obviously doing something right,” says Chris Roush, who teaches business journalism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Roush points to the Journal’s coverage of Theranos, Medicare fraud, cyber-privacy and the Malaysia scandal as recent high points. “It covers much more political and general news than it did a decade ago,” he says.

As the Murdoch brothers ease into control in the post-Rupert era, unencumbered by the prejudices and perceived slights that have made their father a mad man, they could honestly say they’re honoring his memory by making Fox News Channel more like Sky, the Journal, and the Timeses and less like the Post. Murdoch knows how to do journalism right. Arranging for a graft from those outlets for what top Fox critic Gabriel Sherman calls an “anti-journalism organization” is not a ridiculous proposition.

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