Nobody has done more to create the toxic, divisive, antidemocratic and increasingly violent state of American politics than News Corp founder and chair Rupert Murdoch. That he gets to retire at age 92, and not in shame, reminds us of life’s fundamental unfairness.
Speaking of shame, I’ve chronicled the way Murdoch forced some of his loyalest perpetrators of hate and division—men like the late former Fox head Roger Ailes, disgraced former anchor Bill O’Reilly, and toxic masculinity victim and purveyor Tucker Carlson—to end their careers in disgrace. It almost makes me feel sorry for those monsters. Why should their careers have ended in shame when the man who enabled them gets to end his on his own terms? Naming mediocre Kendall—I mean, loyal Lachlan—his immediate successor to boot.
Ailes and O’Reilly, of course, got too expensive to keep on board when the number of sexual harassment complaints against them, and the amounts it was taking to settle them, kept rising. We still don’t know what got Carlson fired, but it certainly involved his sexism: A lawsuit by a female Fox producer complained about his penchant for calling women the C-word and ugly comments about female politicians’ fuckability. The disclosures about Carlson’s hypocritical support for Donald Trump’s stolen-election lies also contributed to Fox’s settling the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit for $787 million. Ouch.
But the discovery moves in the Dominion trial that uncovered Carlson’s duplicity also exposed Murdoch’s—and his was more craven. We know he called Trump’s election fraud claims “really crazy stuff.” He backed the network’s calling Arizona, and ultimately the election, for Joe Biden, despite a viewer backlash. Watching the disgraced Rudy Giuliani and nutjob Sidney Powell lie on his network, he e-mailed CEO Suzanne Scott: “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear.” But then he panicked as he saw Fox losing audience share to not only CNN but also upstart right-wing networks NewsMax and OAN.
He was also blunt, in a Dominion deposition, about his greed. He admitted that his network regularly featured Mike Lindell, Mr. My Pillow, because of his advertising. “The man is on every night. Pays us a lot of money,” he said in a deposition. “At first you think it’s comic, and then you get bored.” It wasn’t politics but cash, he insisted memorably. “It is not red or blue, it is green.”
This is a great tick-tock of Murdoch’s Dominion perfidy, by the way.
The list goes on. I wrote about Fox’s role in ginning up racial hatred against Barack Obama more than 13 years ago.
Murdoch mainstreamed Glenn Beck’s anti-Obama craziness—he called the half-white president a “racist” with “a deep hatred of white people,” among other inanities—but then showed Beck the door, too, when his looniness began costing Fox advertisers. So many of his minions have left in disgrace, it seems unfair that Murdoch won’t join their walk of shame.
Of course, the end of Murdoch’s story isn’t written. Facing another lawsuit by Smartmatic Voting Systems related to its election-fraud lies, the company remains in legal and financial peril. The family trust that controls the empire gives Murdoch’s four oldest children—Lachlan, Elisabeth, James, and Prudence—equal say about its future, but only after his death. Nobody lives forever. They say the good die young, but even the bad have to go eventually. Murdoch departs with his reputation and his empire relatively intact. Time will deliver a different outcome for both, I believe.