Rupert Murdoch's retreat from Trumpism could unleash an epic conflict
‘At some point you’ve got to wonder’, said Fox News’ Tucker Carlson last night, ‘about where our country is putting all of its energy… All politicians whether you agree with them or not come with a shelf life… In Trump’s case, the expiration date arrives in 13 days.’
For Carlson, easily Trump’s most charismatic media booster, and for his employers, the final götterdämmerung weeks of the Trump presidency are a difficult time. It’s hard to tell your audience the opposite of what you’ve been telling them for half a decade — Emperor Trump has no toga. Imagine if Pravda went from lambasting the ‘running dogs of capitalism’ in its editorials, to praising the NASDAQ and Milton Friedman within the space of a few weeks in 1980. The comrades, understandably, might become confused.
It’s not just Trump either. Fox anchors were even unimpressed with Senator Josh Hawley’s claim that the zapping of his book contract was an example of cancel culture.
— Millennial Democrats (@Millennial_Dems) January 8, 2021
The Fox News pivot, and that of other publications owned by Rupert Murdoch, away from Trumpism raises fascinating questions. If Fox won’t give its audience what it wants, competitor networks will step in to throw red meat to Trumpists. Last month, for the very first time, Fox was beaten in the ratings by Newsmax TV — a right-wing rival, which unlike Fox, was prepared to back Trump’s claims that November’s election was stolen. True believers began to flee from Fox to other networks.
Trump has been railing at Fox for weeks, with tweets like: “@FoxNews daytime ratings have completely collapsed. Weekend daytime even WORSE.” The President’s anger led to speculation that he would buy Newsmax, transforming it into Trump TV — half padded room, half broadcast studio. A safe space to construct his fantasies and soak up the adoration of his fans, without criticism. Murdoch was reportedly so worried by the prospect that he offered Trump a $100 million advance for his presidential memoirs. ‘Let’s buy Trump off so he shuts the fuck up’ a Murdoch source told Vanity Fair.
In the past, Murdoch had three tests for what made a great tabloid newspaper story. First, it should be a spectacle, an entertaining soap opera. Second, it should fuel resentment — and circulation — by being about the famous, the beautiful, or the rich. It should shine a light on how the other half lives: Worthy Bishop’s Secret BDSM Romps! Lastly, it should be powered in one way or another by a visceral attitude of rebelliousness against authority.
Trump, as a man, and as a political force, passed all of these tests. He recognises their value as much as Murdoch does. They’re not merely tests either. They’re weapons. The further the network runs away from Trump, the easier it will be for him to use these weapons against Fox.