Rupert Murdoch, so far one of Donald Trump’s most loyal media messengers, seems to have turned against the former president.
American media circles were rocked this weekend after the New York Post published an op-ed condemning Trump’s failure to stop the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The editorial, in a tabloid owned by Murdoch since 1976, began: “As his supporters stormed the Capitol, calling for the hanging of his vice president, President Donald Trump sat in his private dining room, watching TV, doing nothing. For three hours, seven minutes.
Trump’s sole purpose, the Post said, was to block the peaceful transfer of power.
“By principle, by character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be CEO of this country again.”
The Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch paper, published a similar critique in which it said evidence presented to the House committee on Jan. 6 was a reminder that “Trump betrayed his supporters.”
Trump, the Journal said, was sworn to uphold the constitution and had an obligation to protect the Capitol from the mob he told to come there, knowing they were armed.
“He refused. He didn’t call the army to send help. He didn’t call [Mike] Pence to check the safety of his faithful [vice-president]. Instead, he fed the mob’s anger and let the riot play out.
Trump had “not shown one iota of regret,” the Journal said, adding, “Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his trial on Jan. 6. Mr. Trump completely failed his.
The editorials were just the latest volleys from the big guns of Murdochian conservatism.
“The person who owns January 6 is Donald Trump,” the Journal said in June.
“In a hurry!” he urged readers. “The 2024 plateau is rich. You have Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley…the list goes on. All candidates who adopt conservative policies… Unsubscribe from daily emails from Trump begging for money. Then choose your favorite from a new generation of curators. Look towards 2022 and 2024, and towards a new era. Let’s make America sane again.
Columnists made similar calls.
“Let go of the anvil which, in the most buoyant waters imaginable, will plunge you to the bottom of the sea,” Peggy Noonan wrote in the Journal.
In the Post, Michael Goodwin said that “Trump’s old squabbles and grievances already seem outdated and by 2024 they are unlikely to inspire the hope and confidence that America so desperately needs.”
Last year, Murdoch himself said conservatives needed to take an active role in political debate, “but that won’t happen if President Trump stays focused on the past.”
There are also signs that Murdoch’s most powerful media property, Fox News, is starting to shift its stance. On Friday, Fox News opted not to broadcast a Trump rally in Arizona at which a state endorsement was met with boos. Instead, Fox News aired an interview with DeSantis.
Observers believe Murdoch, 91, may be tired of Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, which has both kept Trump in the spotlight and denied him the ceremonial status usually given to former presidents.
Murdoch’s outlets faced legal repercussions for repeating Trump’s lie. A Delaware judge recently ruled that Fox Corp could be sued by Dominion Voting Systems for spreading conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election.
Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan are named in the $1.6 billion lawsuit, for allegedly acting with “actual malice” in allowing Fox News to broadcast claims that the election was rigged. The judge, Eric Davis, cited reports that the elder Murdoch had said privately that Trump had lost the election.
Fox News says it is “confident that we will prevail because freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy and must be protected, in addition to claims for damages that are outrageous, unsubstantiated and not grounded in sound financial analysis. , serving only as a blatant attempt to dissuade our journalists from doing their job.
A friendly friendship
The relationship between Murdoch and Trump has long been seen as a relationship of convenience. Thirty years ago, Trump often used the New York Post in his divorce battle with Ivana Trump, his first wife who died this month. As Trump ally Roger Stone described to The New York Times, Trump considered the Page Six column “very important to his growing stature in New York and his branding efforts.”
But a year before Trump was elected in 2015, the Times reported that Murdoch considered him an “impostor”.
After Trump mocked Senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Murdoch wrote on Twitter, “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?”
The Journal called Trump a “disaster” and said, “Trump is toast.” But by the time Trump was elected in 2016, he and Murdoch had cemented a friendship of convenience.
Murdoch was able to bypass White House aides to reach the president. Trump reportedly called Murdoch to reassure Fox News would not be affected by a deal to sell 21st Century Fox to Disney.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump vacationed on Murdoch’s 184ft yacht. Ivanka became a trustee of the twin daughters of Murdoch and Wendi Deng.
The latest editorials may not change the views of Fox News primetime hosts. Sean Hannity, for his part, described the January 6 House hearings as “obsessive anti-Trump partisan smearing” and claimed they had not “established[ed] a criminal matter or reveal[ed] overwhelming new evidence… just as they promised”.
But the titles in print seem to be changing. Quoting “someone in Murdoch’s orbit”, Vanity Fair said last month that the media baron was “a pragmatic guy”.
“He knows better than anyone how to read political tea leaves. It’s pretty obvious that quite a few people in the firmament have begun to challenge the previously held collective view of Trump. It is now understood that the gloves are off. As [Trump] goes wild, it just makes it easier for people to fight back.