By Oliver Darcy, CNN Business
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Fox News largely refrains from criticizing Donald Trump. But, in private, Lachlan Murdoch has denounced some of the former President’s behavior in harsh terms.
In private this year, the Fox Corp. chief executive has freely criticized Trump, saying that he disagrees with much of the way the former President behaves, sources tell me. Murdoch has gone so far as to tell people that he believes if Trump were to run again, it would be bad for the country, I’m told.
But, the sources added, Murdoch has also noted that the Fox News audience continues to support Trump. Which is to say that Murdoch knows that supporting Trump is good for business — and, more importantly, he knows that pillorying him is bad for business because it would alienate the channel’s core audience.
This is notable. Patriarch Rupert Murdoch’s low opinion of Trump has been endlessly covered. But, until now, the younger Murdoch’s opinion has been somewhat of a mystery.
A Fox Corp. spokesperson declined to comment on this reporting. But the dichotomy helps explain why the right-wing channel continues to be supportive of Trump, despite recent reporting that indicates the Murdochs are privately disillusioned with him. Last month, The New York Times and The Washington Post published stories indicating that the Murdochs were quietly giving Trump the cold shoulder by emphasizing him less in coverage on Fox.
That reporting prompted some to wonder: Could the Murdochs finally be steering Fox in an anti-Trump direction?
The network’s programming over the last 24 hours has shattered any such illusion. Fox’s coverage of the FBI’s search and seizure of documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort has been downright sycophantic. Just like when he was in the White House facing scandal, the network’s top personalities have rushed on air to portray Trump as the victim of shadowy, deep-state forces who are corrupt enough to use the levers of governmental power to damage him.
So what should we make of all of this? Perhaps it is that when Trump is not in the news, we may see the personal views of the Murdochs shine through coverage on Fox, with their television megaphone choosing to spotlight other conservative politicians as the future of the Republican Party. But when Trump is at the center of the news cycle, it puts Fox in an untenable business position: If the network condemns Trump, it loses its audience. So, in those moments, the default position will be to air supportive coverage of him.
Of course, if this is the law of the land at Fox, it would suggest that if Trump were to run again, he’d have Fox back at his side — regardless of how the Murdochs actually feel about him.
Breaking through to the Fox audience
Fox might shy away from anti-Trump commentary in its programming, but one way to ensure that such messages do make their way to its large audience is through ad buys. Which is precisely the strategy that Liz Cheney has decided to employ as she faces a tough primary race this month against a Trump-backed challenger.
Cheney’s campaign has purchased a series of national ad spots on the network to run the campaign ad featuring her father lace into Trump as a “coward” who lies to his supporters and “tried to steal the election” using violence. The ads, first reported by Axios’ Alayna Treene, started running on Tuesday and will continue throughout the week, airing twice each day on “Fox & Friends” and once each night on “Hannity.”
Jeremy Adler, a spox for the Cheney campaign, said in a statement, “It’s important not only for Fox News viewers, but for the network’s hosts and top executives, to hear former Vice President Cheney’s warning about the ongoing danger Donald Trump and his lies pose to our constitutional republic.” Here’s my full story…
Elsewhere in the Murdoch-verse
Through their papers, where the financial stakes are notably far lower, the Murdochs continue to send signals that they are not happy with Trump. Tuesday’s edition of the New York Post is the latest example. The tabloid published a piece from the editorial board which argued that Trump “shares blame” for “the wasteful spending” from Democrats in Congress. “Republicans also need to cast an eye to Bedminster, summer home of the party’s sabotager-in-chief,” the Post’s editorial board wrote. “Blame for this travesty also lies at Donald Trump’s feet.”
That editorial followed a Monday afternoon piece in WSJ by Gerard Baker who wrote that many Trump Republicans are “not ready for prime time.” Baker explained, “The problem isn’t inexperience itself. This year’s leading crop of outsiders owe their difficulty less to being new faces than to the things they say — and purport to believe — and to their inescapable proximity to Mr. Trump and his various toxicities…”
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