The love affair between Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump is well and truly over. Trump has been repeatedly complaining about the Fox coverage of his presidency for a year or two now, but he has been complaining about a lot of other things too; he’s a man easily displeased. Objectively, the Murdoch news outlets, whether print or TV, have provided the friendliest media for the President during his time in office (though that’s not saying much considering how unashamedly hostile and one-eyed the rest of the mainstream press has been).
But that’s no longer the case. Murdoch has decided to cut his losses and sensing Trump is a dead man walking is now sticking the knife into Don. “The Australian” has been on the anti-Trump bandwagon since the election day, promoting only anti-Trump takes. “New York Post” has switched its tone in the last 12 hours or so. Prior to that its rhetoric has been measured, now it’s stinging and indistinguishable from the WaPo or the NYT. Take a look:
Arguably, the decision to part ways has come earlier, if Fox News’ election day and night coverage is anything to go by. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been overflowing with disappointment at best and more often rage from both right-wing pundits and ordinary conservatives. The most criticised has been the analytical and prognosticating output of the “decision desk” under Aaron Mishkin, a Democrat and Democrat donor from New York (and a veteran Fox election consultant), including its reticence to call states for Trump even when it was clear Trump was going to win them, and – most controversially – calling Arizona for Biden before any other outlet (Arizona continues to be on knife’s edge and still has not been officially decided). Various reports have either Trump himself or Jared Kushner calling Murdoch directly to press Fox to rescind the Arizona call, with Murdoch refusing to budging (as is fair – regardless of whether it was a correct call, media should not be influenced by politicians, though it frequently is, mostly on the progressive side).
What’s behind Murdoch’s decision and its timing is more difficult to say. Rupert prefers not to back losers, and perhaps he too had bought into the poll-driven narrative of the past months that Trump will get trashed in a Democrat landslide. The decision to cut Trump loose, however, is unlikely to win him any new friends or respect; he will remain the Public Enemy No 1 for the left. Too little, too late. In any case, the (past) support for Trump is hardly the only thing that progressives hate about Rupert. And, of course, Murdoch’s new direction has already infuriated many conservatives, who will now ditch Fox for other outlets.
In some ways, the political divorce has been on the cards for a while. Rupert is 89 and though, unlike the left, no one on the right wishes him speedy death, sooner or later the media empire will fall under the full control of his children, none of whom are ideological warriors like their father or for that matter have any particular conservative sympathies (quite the opposite, in fact). In the next decade or so, the Murdoch media empire will inevitably drift to the left as it strives to reposition itself and join the mainstream. It will arguably wither and die in the process because, after all, who needs yet another left-liberal group of outlets in a world where the news business is already pretty much monopolised by the left?
Donald Trump remains the joker in the pack here. While it’s unlikely now that he will stay in the White House, there have been speculations for some time that he could convert his political popularity to launch a rival conservative media empire – Trump News Network and the such. In which case, it will likely replace Fox as the go-to for the conservatives. God knows, someone has to fill that (profitable) niche, catering to 50 per cent of the population. So, perhaps, Rupert’s goodbye to Murdoch will translate in the near future into a Trump-led, right-wing goodbye to Rupert, or the ghost of Rupert. In the meantime, you have heard it here first, at the Daily Chrenk media empire. Stay tuned.