James Murdoch is the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the company that oversees Fox News. He is also the son of Rupert Murdoch, a founder of Fox News. He is also the writer of a much-covered email to his colleagues at 21st Century Fox, an email that comes in reaction to a grim week of headlines: Clashes in Charlottesville at a rally organized by neo-Nazis and KKK members, followed by a dismal effort by President Trump to blame both sides.
“It has not been my habit to widely offer running commentary on current affairs, nor to presume to weigh in on the events of a given day save those that might be of particular or specific concern to 21CF and my colleagues,” wrote Murdoch. “But what we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people.”
More sentiments along those lines from an executive who handles Fox News: “The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.”
The email takes a turn into the company’s content: “Certainly no company can be perfect. But I’m proud of the powerful art that can emerge, and I’m grateful to all of my colleagues who make this happen. From the potent and compelling narrative of ’12 Years a Slave’, to the streets of Pakistan and the bravery of an extraordinary young woman that we saw in ‘He Named Me Malala’, to name just a few, we’ve never been afraid to help storytellers and artists say important things – hard things, too.”
Seems Mr. Murdoch omitted a certain other category of content: Fox News, the crown jewel of the company’s U.S. holdings. It yields $1.5 billion in annual profits.
And some indeterminate chunk of those profits stem from the Fox News Channel’s promotion of Trump and its blind eye to his racist campaign, which started in June 2015 by maligning Mexicans as “rapists”; went on to call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States; repeatedly failed to call out anti-Semitism; and otherwise gave every indication that, when the president would be confronted with an event such as Charlottesville, he would act precisely as he did.
Now consider how James Murdoch and his family triumvirate — he, his father Rupert Murdoch and his brother Lachlan Murdoch — approached the racist Trump campaign. Although Rupert Murdoch was reported to have sicced Fox Newsers on Trump in the primary campaign’s early moments, the network promoted the real-estate mogul in key time slots. “Fox & Friends” had been promoting Trump since 2011, when he started calling in on Monday mornings to chat with the co-hosts on the curvy couch. Valuable exposure. The morning program continued its sycophancy throughout the general election and into the Trump presidency. There is no Trump talking point that “Fox & Friends” won’t swallow.
And then there’s Bill O’Reilly: This crafty former Fox News host did remarkable work in playing down Trump’s persistent racism during the campaign. Whenever Trump said something offensive, O’Reilly was there to deflect the problem as a function of media overreach, or something else. Heck, O’Reilly even sided with Trump after the candidate attacked a judge of Mexican descent as having a conflict of interest in a Trump University case. “He’s a Mexican,” said Trump of the Indiana-born jurist. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Double heck, O’Reilly managed to excuse Trump’s birtherism, phrasing the moral outrage as a matter of campaign optics: “Do you think your birther position has hurt you among African Americans?”
Where was James Murdoch when his colleague was paving the way to a Trump presidency?
Now, O’Reilly was forced out of the network this past spring. Not because of his assistance to Trump, however. A scandal over the number of sexual harassment settlements that he and Fox News reached with women forced the departure. It took an activist revolt against O’Reilly advertisers — and not the executives’ sense of decency — to accomplish the ouster.
Even as James Murdoch denounces Trump’s approach to Charlottesville, he still has a guy in prime time who earns points for creativity in defending Trump, no matter what the guy does. That would be Sean Hannity, who actually participated in a Trump ad during the presidential campaign.
How do we know that James Murdoch was just fine with the way that Fox News enabled a racist campaign to take the White House? From his own words. In the summer of 2016, 21st Century Fox booted late Fox News chief Roger Ailes following the boss’s own sexual harassment scandal. There was no better time to adjust the channel’s outlook. But the Murdoch brothers made clear to investors that Ailesism wasn’t leaving the building. “There is no desire to shift the position it has in the market,” James Murdoch said. “It’s a very successful business, and we are undergoing a transition to new leadership that should not flag at all a transition of the underlying positioning or the strategy of the channels.”
The mission was to preserve the “unique and important voice” of Fox News. And that preservation mission has worked quite well. Take a gander at this video produced by Media Matters:
The Trump talking points that have astonished decent people everywhere have been focus-grouped on Fox News, where people like Hannity and the sycophants on “Fox & Friends” continue fashioning the “unique and important voice” of the network. All the garbage about gathering all the facts, about both sides being violent, about the alt-left, about the threat against George Washington commemorations — those were easy to find on Fox News. Fairness demands noting that others on Fox News have criticized Trump’s Charlottesville reaction; the network isn’t monolithic. No network, however, has so consistently provided safe harbor for Trump’s toxic views on race and ethnicity, as James Murdoch is surely aware.
In closing his email, Murdoch discloses that he has given $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. “Many of you are supporters of the Anti-Defamation League already – now is a great time to give more,” he wrote. Now is indeed a great time to give more, in part because of the work of his own news channel.