In the summer of 2011, Rupert Murdoch visited me in my small office at The Wall Street Journal, where I work as a columnist and editor. He has just returned from London, where he testified before a parliamentary committee investigating his British tabloid’s phone-hacking scandal (where he was attacked by a shaving foam pie). The scandal eventually led to the closure of News of the World, which was at one point one of the world’s best-selling English-language newspapers.
I don’t remember many details of the conversation — Murdoch liked to talk politics and policy with his reporters, and would sometimes take us to lunch at the Lamb Club in midtown Manhattan — but I do remember the gist of what he had to say about the fiasco : Never put anything in an email. His private takeaway doesn’t seem to be holding his company to high ethical standards. It leaves no traces that investigators could use as evidence against him, his family or his favorite lieutenants.
Fast forward ten years. Not much has changed. Fox News and its chief disinformation officer, Tucker Carlson, were euphemistically described as parting ways on Monday after the former primetime host placed something in emails and text messages proving he knew he was peddling lies — and then zoomed in they.
On November 18, 2020, Carlson told host Laura Ingraham, “By the way, Sidney Powell is lying,” referring to Notorious election conspiracy theorist. “I got her. This is insane.” Many others in the network, including Murdoch, according to evidence gathered in a brief filed by Dominion Voting Systems as part of its lawsuit against Fox News , which includes Murdoch, is also true of Carlson, a lawsuit that was settled last week for $787.5 million. “I’m worried that something terrible is going to hurt everybody,” Murdoch told the network’s chief executive Suzanne Scott. But networks fired or punished journalists who reported the truth.
It’s not out of the question that Fox could now suffer the same fate as News of the World. The company faces a similar $2.7 billion lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic. Carlson will almost certainly set up shop elsewhere, taking his vast audience with him. If given the boot, so do some other prime-time hosts who have had legal problems.
All of this makes Fox’s business challenges much the same as those faced by surfers on the Portuguese beaches of Nazare: Miss the waves, ride them or get crushed by them. For Fox, riding the waves is no longer easy: Angry populism is a force that can only be stirred up, never calmed down.
Then am I happy? not at all.
Part of it is the belief that whatever Carlson does next is likely to be even more unhinged and toxic than his previous incarnations: It’s a career arc that has shifted from a William F. Buckley admirer to a Bill O’Reilly adoration Admirers, and soon, I think, admirers of Father Coughlin. No one should rule out his career in politics, either as Donald Trump’s running mate or as a Republican compromise candidate between Trump and Ron DeSantis.
But there’s also a sense of what Fox might become. Murdoch had a chance to build what the country really needed in the mid-1990s, when the Republican Party was shifting from the optimistic and accountable party of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay’s Angry Populism: An Effective Center — rightly balancing the overwhelmingly liberal leanings of most major news outlets (as conservatives typically see).
In other words, instead of trying to ride the waves, Murdoch could have bought a ship and taken the helm. It may not have the ratings that Fox has — though Fox was always about clout and money for Murdoch. But, if executed well, it may elevate conservatism in the direction of Burke, Hamilton, and Lincoln, rather than in the direction of Andrew Jackson, Joe McCarthy, and Pat Buchanan. direction development.
Such a channel would still be very conservative, and most liberals would be outraged. But it would also defend the classical liberal core of intelligent conservatism: immigration is an asset, not a liability; freedom of speech and conscience must be extended to those whose ideas we loathe; American power should be harnessed to protect the world Democracies are protected from aggressive dictators; we grow richer at home by freely trading goods abroad; nothing is more sacred than democracy and the rule of law; The country we criticize.
This channel will be needed all the more urgently in the future, as Murdoch unleashes an unhinged populism that sweeps across everything in its path, from “establishment” Republicans to quite possibly Fox itself. The shame of Rupert Murdoch is that he is not one to do this. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.