21st Century Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch did some talking on Thursday about the deal to sell his television and movie assets to Disney for $52 billion. Surely the mogul wanted to speak solely about how he’s a journo guy at heart, who started his mogulian career helming newspapers, buying newspapers, micromanaging newspapers. All of which is true.
Yet Sky News, in which Murdoch’s company owns a 39 percent stake, asked an inconvenient question: How has the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News affected the company? “It’s all nonsense,” responded the 86-year-old, who told Sky that he was returning to the company’s “roots” in news and sports coverage. “There was a problem with our chief executive, over the year, isolated incidents. As soon as we investigated he was out of the place in hours — well three or four days. And there has been nothing else since then.”
That investigation resulted in the July 2016 ouster of former (and now deceased) Fox News founding executive Roger Ailes, who was stung by allegations from many women over his 20-year tenure at the network. One of the stories involved the psychological torment of a booking aide at Fox News, an episode whose depravity defies abridgment.
Less than a year later, Cable News King Bill O’Reilly lost his job, also over sexual harassment claims — despite Murdoch’s amnesiac claim that “there has been nothing else since then.”
When busted at the rot within their organizations, other media executives have struck apologetic tones equal to the horror of sexual harassment. To address the firing of Matt Lauer from NBC News, Andy Lack, chairman of the organization, said, in part, “Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender,” Lack said.
Compare that to “nonsense.” Speaking of the sexual harassment scandals that have surfaced at NBC News, CBS News and elsewhere after the Ailes ouster, Murdoch summed things up: “That was largely political because we are conservative. The liberals are going down the drain. NBC is in deep trouble,” he told Sky.
Such is the ideology of a man who’ll now have more time to dedicate to Fox News, provided that his deal goes through. “I think he’s keeping his passion projects,” an analyst said in an interview with the New York Times. It’s an often-remarked trait of Murdoch’s: His love for chasing stories and consulting with editors about the next bombshell. In his decade-old Murdoch biography, Michael Wolff captured the ethic:
[We] found the 77-year-old News Corp. chairman and C.E.O. hunched over the phone reporting out a story. He’d been out the night before and gotten a tip. Now he was trying to nail it down. His side of the conversation was straight reporter stuff: Who could he call? How could he get in touch? Will they confirm? Barked, impatient, just the facts. Here was the old man, in white shirt, singlet visible underneath, doing one of the same basic jobs he’d been doing since he was 22, having inherited the Adelaide News in Australia from his father. And he was good at it. He was parsing each answer. Re-asking the question. Clarifying every point. His notepad going. He knew the trade. Of how many media-company C.E.O.’s could that be said? This wasn’t a destroyer of journalism—this was a practitioner.
On the other hand, he was trying to smear somebody. At the dinner party he’d attended—since his marriage to Wendi Deng, he’s become an unlikely fixture at fashionable tables—he heard that a seniormost Hillary Clinton operative was a partner in an online porn company. He didn’t like the operative, didn’t like—no matter how much he had tried—Hillary Clinton. So it didn’t much matter that the story itself seemed far-fetched and tenth-hand. It was juicy and would slime somebody he thought was … a slime. True, it didn’t pan out—and, to his credit, that was the end of it. Well, sort of. Because he kept recycling it. While it did not end up on the *Post’*s “Page Six,” it became a staple in Murdoch’s repertoire of whispers and confidences and speculations. Rupert Murdoch doesn’t need to print or broadcast the news to make it … news.
That little tidbit may help contextualize Fox News coverage of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Whatever Murdoch’s motives, he was a visionary when it came to understanding the complexities of journalism business models: “I don’t know any better than anyone else where the electronic age is taking us, or how it will affect a large newspaper company. But I do know that … you will have to be a major player in the production of entertainment programming,” Murdoch told Fortune magazine in 1984.
Now he’s unloading his entertainment properties and hunkering down with his news and sports properties. Check that: Depending on the hour, Fox News does plenty of entertainment. What, after all, are Sean Hannity’s rants about Seth Rich, or the corruption of Robert Mueller or the constant misfeasance of the mainstream media?