The Murdoch Empire – and Fox News – is at a crossroads

(Bloomberg) — In 2021, Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch was described by President Joe Biden as the “most dangerous man in the world,” such was the raw power his cable news network had in shaping public opinion.

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Flash forward to now, where a lower figure emerges from court documents unveiled this week as part of a $1.6 billion defamation suit brought against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., a coerced into an awkward admission: he had been promoting the false idea that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump, but feared the network would lose loyal viewers and annoy the then president.

When asked if he could have stopped producers and hosts from booking guests like Sidney Powell, who propagated the election myth, Murdoch said: “I could have, but I don’t run Fox News that way. I have Mrs. Scott to the position,” referring to Fox News chief executive officer Suzanne Scott. “And I delegate everything to her,” he added.

How influential Murdoch still is, whether he is still able to make or break political careers, is looming in Republican circles ahead of what promises to be a contentious 2024 presidential primary. The party is split between a zealous base still devoted to Trump and those yearning for a less controversial challenger in the form of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Fox News, according to Trump, has shown a clear preference for DeSantis, who has been attacking the network in recent days. Fox is working overtime for DeSanctus, but they’re failing — look at the polls. We are MAGA!” the former president posted this week on Truth Social, his social media platform.

The problem is that Murdoch’s confession under oath could damage the conservative news network’s credibility as it faces another Trump-centric presidential primary season.

Murdoch’s outrageous ability to influence the political landscape was legendary from his native Australia to both sides of the Atlantic. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair went so far as to say in an official inquiry a decade ago that he was afraid of rising up against him.

Dominion, a maker of voting machines, is accusing Fox News and Fox Corp. of helping to promote false claims that the company flipped millions of electronic ballots from Trump during the election as part of a massive conspiracy. The network and its parent company deny wrongdoing, saying Fox News only reported “newsworthy” allegations against a sitting president, and that Fox is protected by the First Amendment.

The lawsuit has not only scrutinized Murdoch’s media empire, but also reveals that he does not have full control over some of his most high-profile on-air commentators who remain loyal to Trump.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have decidedly soured the former president, pointing out in editorials that he has lost the most elections in which he has played a part since 2018.

That puts the network at a crossroads — to follow in the footsteps of unashamedly conspiracy-driven outlets like One America News Network or to be a conservative but fact-based news organization.

Political journalists and other pundits say the credibility crisis at Fox may not have happened under Roger Ailes, the former Fox executive who was ousted over sexual harassment allegations.

They say he kept tighter control over talk show hosts, especially during key moments like election night coverage, and maintained a stronger distinction between opinion and news even as the network promoted Trump’s fledgling candidacy in 2015 and 2016.

“It was our job as reporters and producers to beat CNN with stories and the only way to do that was to get the story right and get it for them,” said Carl Cameron, who spent more than 20 years with Fox News. worked before he left. 2017, one year after Ailes’ departure. “Making things up wasn’t part of the process.”

Dominion’s documents show that Fox leadership was concerned that acknowledging that Biden won the 2020 election would alienate fans and advertisers.

On January 5, 2021, Murdoch discussed with Scott whether Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham should convey a version of “the election is over and Joe Biden has won,” according to the filing. None of them made a statement, Dominion said, while Scott told Murdoch that “we have to be careful about using the shows” and turn off viewers.

When asked why Fox News hosted MyPillow Inc. founder Mike Lindell who spread false claims of election fraud, Murdoch testified that Lindell “pays us a lot of money” in advertising.

“It’s not red or blue, it’s green,” Murdoch said, according to the filing.

Fox News gave its Trump-leaning on-air personalities plenty of leeway for weeks to discuss Trump’s grievances by hosting the former president’s surrogates and hinting at evidence of massive election fraud that never materialized, according to Dominion.

With Newsmax and OAN going all in on false coverage of the results, Fox knew they had to “get over the issue” and continue to allow the stolen election story featuring Dominion to be pushed on Fox News to excite anger and loss. prevent. — their Trump-supporting viewers,” Dominion said.

For example, Dominion said that Hannity told viewers that the manual recount in Georgia would be “critical regarding the questions about Dominion,” but then failed to report when the recount proved that Dominion’s machines were working correctly and counting Trump’s votes accurately. Instead, Hannity Powell, a lawyer and one of the conspiracy theory’s main promoters, had “spread lies about Dominion,” according to the Dominion filing.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it afterwards,” Murdoch testified.

Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who interviewed some of Trump’s top supporters, testified that she would have listened to Rupert Murdoch, his son Lachlan Murdoch, or Scott if one of them told her not to promote a particular guest. But “they never said anything like that,” she said.

In particular, Fox Corp. praises Murdoch’s lack of editorial direction in his request that Dominion’s claims against the company be dismissed. Fox’s hosts “uniformly testify that they never received instructions from anyone at Fox Corporation, including Rupert Murdoch or Lachlan Murdoch, regarding that coverage,” the company said in a Monday document.

The network is unlikely to change its programming format even after the explosive revelations in the case, said Jon Klein, former president of the American CNN network.

“Their fundamental view of the world will not change,” Klein said. “It’s core to their business model to say anything, do anything, allow anything, as long as they’re not outflanked by the even crazier outlets to their right, like OAN.”

–With help from Mark Niquette.

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