While Fox News continues to promote and defend Donald Trump's presidential campaign, other parts of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and Murdoch himself have criticized the candidate in what appears to be an internal proxy war.
New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that the divergent tone in coverage of Trump's campaign may be evidence of a split between Murdoch and Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, who recently signed a new contract that will extend his tenure beyond the 2016 election.
Sherman reports that Fox "insiders" say Ailes "is pushing Fox to defend Trump's most outlandish comments." Trump has called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and criminals, and attacked Sen. John McCain's military record -- remarks that many on Fox have defended. Sherman also reports that Ailes told his senior executives that Murdoch asked him to "back off the Trump coverage" and that in response Ailes told his superior that he would cover Trump "the way he wanted to."
A Sherman source indicated that "Ailes has instructed The Five co-host Eric Bolling to defend Trump on air." Bolling recently called companies boycotting Trump for his racist remarks "economic terrorists," and attacked conservative pundits who criticized Trump. Fox News contributor Pat Caddell is also reportedly helping Trump behind the scenes. Sherman notes, "According to a source with direct knowledge, Caddell has been speaking to Trump 'almost every day' about his campaign."
A New York Times article reported that Murdoch personally does not like Trump, and the feeling is mutual. The Times reports that Murdoch "often described" Trump as a "phony" to his friends, and disagrees with him on immigration. Murdoch said Trump was "wrong" to characterize Mexican immigrants as "rapists," and tweeted after his anti-McCain remarks, "When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?"
The Times reports that despite his past feuds with Murdoch, Trump has "set his sights" on "wooing" Ailes. They note, "his treatment by Fox News is much more crucial because of the influence the channel wields among the Republican Party's base."
Associates of Ailes told the Times they believe that promoting Trump could be a win-win for Ailes, since "it could buy time for other Republican contenders to hone their messages and become more seasoned campaigners" while Fox ratings benefit from covering the ongoing spectacle of Trump's campaign.
Murdoch's other media properties have gone after Trump in recent days.
The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial calling Trump a "catastrophe" and noted, "His only discernible principle is the promotion of his personal brand." The Journal even said, "The conservative media who applaud him are hurting the cause." But they didn't mention Fox News.
Trump pushed back against the Journal by writing, "Look how small the pages have become @WSJ. Looks like a tabloid--saving money I assume!" Trump also said, "The ever dwindling @WSJ which is worth about 1/10 of what it was purchased for, is always hitting me politically. Who cares!"
The Murdoch-owned New York Post covered the McCain story with a front page that said Trump was "toast," adding, "DON VOYAGE!"
Trump has used his Twitter account to amplify criticism from his supporters targeting Fox News, including one tweet directed at the network that read, "tell your owner Murdoch we are turning Fox off if he keeps belittling @realDonaldTrump. No Fox!" Another post he promoted accused Fox of trying to "push Jeb on their viewers."
Overall, Trump's relationship with Fox has been a positive one. He reportedly privately met with Ailes and tops the network for most time given to the 2016 Republican presidential candidates. At a recent campaign event, he praised Fox & Friends, calling co-hosts Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck "great people."
From the July 13 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich is reportedly touting his friendship with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, telling the Financial Times "I love him" and "I love to be with him." Murdoch has donated thousands to Kasich's political campaigns and Fox News previously employed Kasich for years.
Mr Kasich is more confident about his friendship with Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon. "I love him," he says. "Rupert Murdoch . . . has a reputation as a swashbuckler . . . and I'm sure some of that is true, but I love to be with him."
Kasich's friendship with Murdoch has paid big dividends over the years. Fox News hired the former congressman in 2001 -- he stayed at the network until 2009, when he left to successfully run for Ohio governor. Kasich worked as a frequent guest host for The O'Reilly Factor and the host of the programs From The Heartland and Heroes. The network paid him $265,000 in 2008 for his work.
Murdoch is the executive co-chairman of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox and the executive chairman of News Corp. He donated $10,000 to Kasich's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Murdoch's News Corporation, which at the time owned Fox News, also donated $1 million in 2010 to the Republican Governors Association; Murdoch said the donation "was actually [a result of] my friendship with John Kasich." In December 2014, Murdoch donated $10,000 for Kasich's 2014 transition fund.
Politico reported on June 19 that Kasich has "begun a concerted push to lock down the support of Murdoch" and "was hopeful he could be brought aboard." The outlet added "When they are both in New York City, Kasich and Murdoch make plans to see one another. But Murdoch, those familiar with the effort say, hasn't yet committed to Kasich, and has said he has many friends in the contest. He has pointed to Bush, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie as candidates he particularly admires."
There are indications that Kasich's former Fox News colleagues will afford him a home-field advantage. Fox, which has a large influence in the Republican presidential primary, has promoted a Kasich 2016 presidential run and heavily touted his 2010 campaign for governor. Senior vice president and host Neil Cavuto, for instance, told Kasich last year his "success" as governor has given the liberals "reason to fear you" in 2016.
Fox News contributor John LeBoutillier wrote that if Kasich does run, Fox would "accord him very favorable coverage. Why? Because Kasich used to host shows on Fox -- and rumor has it that Sir Rupert Murdoch likes him."
Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of Fox News' parent company, called Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's characterization of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists "wrong," while Fox News has been leading the charge in defending Trump.
The aura of invincibility that Roger Ailes quickly tried to create at Fox News last week after news broke about Rupert Murdoch's executive succession plans has now evaporated. The implications may be long lasting, not only for the cable channel, but also for the Republican Party.
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, Ailes has ruled the Fox News fiefdom within Murdoch's sprawling 21st Century Fox media empire and built it into a hugely influential moneymaker. The Ailes programming fingerprint has always been omnipresent at Fox.
But now as Murdoch signals his eventual withdrawal from corporate leadership and hands the reigns over his sons, James and Lachlan, Ailes is suddenly left without his key ally and now faces a somewhat uncertain future. (Fox's contract with Ailes, who is 75, expires next year.) The Fox boss now has to report to Murdoch's children, both of whom he has sparred with in the past and who have reportedly signaled their distaste for Ailes' brand of toxic programming. In previous corporate scuffles, Ailes always emerged victorious because he had Rupert's final support.
"For Ailes, it was a stinging smack-down and effectively a demotion," wrote Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman in New York. "Roger Ailes Burned By Murdoch Sons In Fox News Power Shift," read the Talking Points Memo headline. (Also note that Ailes is losing another longtime corporate ally, Chase Carey, who's resigning as chief operating officer.)
For the Republican Party, the swirling questions inside Fox News mean this campaign season might be the last one Ailes pilots as the head of Fox News, or at least as the head of Fox News as we currently recognize it. (If the Murdoch sons eventually set out to alter the network, will Ailes have the power to stop them?)
Having seamlessly turned Fox News into the marketing and 'policy' wing of the Republican Party, the current campaign season could mark the end of an era if Ailes' internal power is eroded. Some inside the Republican Party and conservative movement might actually be wondering if that's a good thing.
How fitting is it that the same week Ailes struggles to maintain his power base, Donald Trump's looming presidential campaign emerges into full view? A longtime Fox favorite, Trump, who personifies the often tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes helped hallmark, is poised to unleash a presidential push that could do deep damage to the Republican Party.
If forced to pick a Republican candidate to endorse, Trump likely would not be Ailes' choice. (The Fox boss prefers to side with possible winners.) But the content of Trump's message is undeniably Ailes-esque. Trump's a cartoonish nativist birther who thinks climate change is a hoax. He's loud, offensive and ill informed, which means Trump functions as the Fox News id. He's the guttural roar of Fox's aging, white audience.
"Trump is what Ailes did to the GOP," tweeted Sherman.
Rupert Murdoch described as "almost fascist" Hillary Clinton's remarks in support of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans during her campaign launch speech.
Murdoch falsely claimed during a stream of tweets referencing her June 13 speech that Clinton had "promise[d to] outlaw free speech about LGBT," adding, "Sounds almost fascist."
HillaryNo Promises outlaw free speech about LGBT. What next? Sounds almost fascist.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) June 14, 2015
It's unclear to what Murdoch was referring. During her speech, Clinton stated that "we should ban discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else." Earlier, she recognized "[b]usiness leaders who want higher pay for employees, equal pay for women and no discrimination against the LGBT community either."
In recent months, Clinton has urged the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality and condemned proposed so-called "religious freedom" legislation in Arkansas and Indiana on the grounds that they provide a legal defense "beyond protecting religion" for business owners who discriminate against LGBT people.
In a 2011 speech as Secretary of State, she stated that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."
Murdoch recently announced that he would step down as CEO of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, ceding the title to his son, James. He will remain executive chairman of the company, as well as chairman of News Corp., parent company of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, among other media properties.
In a report on the Murdoch restructure of Fox News' parent company, Fox's Howard Kurtz glazed over the 2011 phone hacking controversy that implicated the Murdoch family in England -- a stark contrast to Kurtz's critical reporting of how Fox News avoided coverage of the scandal while he worked for CNN.
Rupert Murdoch is reportedly planning to step down as CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox. According to CNBC, Murdoch's son James will take over as CEO and son Lachlan will assume the role of "executive co-chairman" of the company in coordination with their father. James Murdoch previously resigned his role as the head of News International -- which published several tabloids and newspapers abroad -- amid the widespread scandal over phone hacking at News of the World, a since-shuttered UK tabloid he oversaw. As part of the fallout from that scandal, Murdoch also resigned his position as chairman of UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
On the June 14 edition of Fox News' Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz used news of the company restructuring as an opportunity to highlight Rupert Murdoch's career, praising him for bringing "huge changes to the media landscape," including "conquering the world of British newspapers, revolutionizing TV sports here in the states, launching the fourth American broadcast network, and of course building a hugely successful and profitable cable news network." To highlight Murdoch's influence, Kurtz added that "when something goes wrong like the phone hacking scandal at the now defunct News of the World, he gets the blame."
Kurtz's report glazing over Murdoch's involvement in the phone hacking scandal and mentioning it only as a way to highlight the former CEO's influence stands in stark contrast to the way Fox's media critic covered the scandal while working for CNN.
In July 2011, as the host of CNN's Reliable Sources, Kurtz criticized Fox News for underplaying coverage of Murdoch's phone hacking scandal which involved Fox's then-parent company News Corp., and said that news networks that avoid covering their own controversies create "a double standard" and "undermine your credibility":
KURTZ: I feel very strongly about this. I mean, we do it on this program all the time when CNN has controversy, I always cover it. And otherwise, what you're signaling to viewers is there's a double standard. We're only aggressive when some other organization is in trouble. And I think that can undermine your credibility.
Kurtz has made a habit of ignoring controversies related to Fox News during his employment at the network, despite promising to bring an "independent brand of media criticism" to Fox.
From the June 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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A report from New York magazine indicates that Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes is leaning towards Gov. Scott Walker for the Republican presidential nomination, while personally involving himself in the network's attacks on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The report, from media writer Gabriel Sherman, is tied to the recent shakeup in the corporate leadership of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox. Rupert Murdoch is stepping down from 21st Century and installing his son James, who presided over publications involved in the phone hacking scandal in England, as the company's new CEO. But Ailes will reportedly continue to report directly to Rupert Murdoch, and not to James, who he reportedly once described as a "fucking dope."
Sherman reports that Fox insiders say that Ailes -- a long time conservative activist who worked on Richard Nixon's presidential campaign -- "simply isn't dazzled by any of the GOP contenders" for president "so far" and has even personally clashed with Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, chiding Christie for appearing with President Obama during Hurricane Sandy as "the fat kid in high school chasing the popular kid" (At the time of the hurricane Murdoch said that Christie had to "take blame" if Obama was re-elected).
Yet Ailes is "said to like" Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is "a ready-made Fox hero" for his Midwestern roots and union-busting agenda. Sherman also notes that Walker's "hard-line" immigration position is "in sync with Fox's." Fox has been a reliable ally for Walker in his fights against public sector labor unions, and on-air hosts have described the governor as a "sexy guy" and someone who makes "my toes curl." In turn, Walker advised fellow Republicans to use Fox to get their "message out."
Media Matters has extensively documented the "Fox News primary" in which Republican presidential candidates vie against each other for the network's attention in order to build a following and campaign funds from the network's heavily conservative audience. Some of the current candidates, like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, were Fox News employees. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a run, also worked for Fox.
Fox's role as kingmaker of the Republican field is more pronounced in this cycle as the network is determining who qualifies to participate in the first official television debate in what some at Fox have described as "Fox's Cleveland primary." Sherman notes that after the failed 2012 election, "many GOPers privately blamed Fox for turning debates into a reality-show spectacle."
Sherman also reports that Ailes is eager to tell the story of "Hillary Clinton as Über-villain" in the 2016 election, harkening back to a 1994 interview in which Ailes accused Clinton of a "suicide cover-up - possible murder." An associate of Ailes told Sherman that it would be "Freddy Krueger time" at the White House if Clinton is elected.
According to Sherman, Ailes "helped edit" Fox's prime time special promoting author Peter Schweizer's error-riddled and dishonest book, Clinton Cash. A Media Matters analysis showed that the network gave Clinton Cash $107 million in free publicity over five days, despite the numerous false and inaccurate claims in it.
From HuffPost Live on June 12:
It's good to be the king. Or in the case of James Murdoch, it's good to be the son of the king.
In announcing that his sons James and Lachlan will be largely taking control of his sprawling media company, press baron Rupert Murdoch did what observers always knew he wanted to do: pass on to his children the worldwide conglomerate that he's built over the last five decades. In the United Sates, of course, that means handing over to his sons one of most important and influential voices in right-wing media and far-right politics, Fox News.
James Murdoch will soon be named CEO of 21st Century Fox, while Lachlan Murdoch will become executive chairman alongside their father, who for now will reportedly maintain a daily presence at the company. Fox News kingpin Roger Ailes will continue to report directly to the senior Murdoch. (Noticeably absent from the succession plans is daughter Elisabeth, a respected media executive who has at times been publicly critical of her brother James.)
That long-awaited changeover was thrown into doubt when the sweeping phone-hacking scandal in England rocked the Murdoch family and their media properties.
Watching father Rupert and son James testify before skeptical members of Parliament in 2011 as the duo did their best to explain away the media scandal raised some doubts about whether the sons would be best-suited to succeed their father. In 2011, more than a third of News Corp. shareholders who voted at a meeting declared that they were not. But of course, while being a publicly traded company, the Murdoch family controls about 40% of the voting shares of News Corp., the publishing operation (New York Post, Wall Street Journal), and 21st Century Fox, which contains the more profitable TV and film operations, including Fox News.
With James Murdoch's public reputation quickly sinking against the hacking backdrop in 2012, he was jettisoned far away from the scandal klieg lights of London and fitted for a Murdoch corporate job in Los Angeles, where he worked until his latest promotion. As the New York Times points out, "in hindsight, the departure of [James] Murdoch and his removal from involvement with News Corporation's British holdings can be seen as part of a calculated strategy to insulate him from the scandal there and resurrect him in the sprawling media company controlled by his father."
Still, UK media regulator Ofcom's report on the hacking debacle excoriated James' leadership, or lack thereof, and concluded that the younger Murdoch "repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of as a chief executive and chairman" as the company engaged in phone hacking and that his failure to stop the wrongdoing was "difficult to comprehend and ill-judged.
In the end, James Murdoch had the right last name and survived the scandal; the type of criminal and political upheaval that not many media companies have had to endure in recent memory. Then again, not many media companies at times resemble a low-level criminal enterprise, which is what Murdoch's empire looked like for years as it hacked into private phone voicemails of the royal family, star athletes and celebrities in search of juicy gossip. In recent years, Murdoch employees have allegedly not only hacked into phones, computers and emails, but also paid off news sources.
Fox News has been on the air nearly two decades and some Beltway journalists are still denying the transparent truth about the cable channel and its intricate political machinations. Even some longtime conservatives, such as historian and former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett, now concede Fox News is "brainwashing" the conservative electorate, and that the GOP is being harmed by the network.
Responding to Bartlett at Politico, senior media writer Jack Shafer insists, "Fox in its current incarnation is neither a help nor a hindrance" to the Republican Party. Shafer argues the network, "a news-entertainment hybrid," doesn't really have much impact on the GOP and has not moved the party to the far right. "The Fox tail does not wag the Republican dog," Shafer concludes. Instead, Fox News is just trying to make a buck. Yes, it ventures into partisan politics with "combative programming," according to Shafer. But people like Bartlett who claim the channel's changed or damaged the Republican Party are overstating their case.
The truth is, as Media Matters has documented for years, the over-the-top programming on Fox News, anchored by baseless claims and wild attacks, routinely mirrors Republicans' legislative agenda. The focused misinformation trademarked by Fox News doesn't exist in a vacuum; it's not merely "entertainment" concocted to sell advertising. (Although it does that quite well.)
The programming on Fox News is designed to shape and change American politics, plain and simple. It's designed to do damage to Democrats and Democratic initiatives. It's built to be the marketing arm for the Republican Party, as it hurdles further and further towards the radical right. And quite often, Fox News is successful.
There's a reason that Fox contributor Newt Gingrich once told conservative activists that Fox News helped make Republican Scott Brown's senate "insurgency possible" in 2010. And there's a reason Fox News drafted the theme of the 2012 Republican convention, "You Didn't Build That."
I'm not sure tails can wag much harder than that.
Hoping to create permanent criminal investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton's dealings -- reminiscent of the ones that hounded them in the 1990s -- conservative commentators employed by Rupert Murdoch have been demanding that the FBI or the Department of Justice open inquiries to determine if the Clintons are guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Their hook is the new Murdoch-published Clinton Cash book, which alleges wide-ranging misconduct by the Clintons and their global charity, the Clinton Foundation.
Hoping to take author Peter Schweizer's fantastic claims of foreign donors buying influence, Murdoch media voices at Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Post and elsewhere want to create a churning culture of subpoenas, testimonies, and legal briefings, likely all in the hopes of catching somebody in a misstatement while under oath. Recall that the 1990's impeachment crusade surrounding president Bill Clinton's sex life grew out of special prosecutor Ken Starr's completely unrelated investigation into the Clintons' money-losing Whitewater land transaction.
A criminal probe sparked by Clinton Cash would be a dream come true for partisan media outlets.
"When you have a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is going get the nomination of her party, the FBI has a duty to, we the people, to investigate any appearance of impropriety. Does it not?" asked Bill O'Reilly this week. "The FBI has got to go in and look. They have to go in and look. If they don't, that's corrupt."
The only problem for Murdoch's minions is they can't point to any evidence that even remotely indicates the Clintons broke the law via their foundation or foreign donations to it. The claims of bribery or quid pro quo deals are entirely flimsy, drowning in innuendo. Instead, the Fox News-led posse is essentially demanding criminal investigations be launched in order to find the evidence first, and then proceed to political prosecutions. It's a bold attempt to criminalize politics.
That blueprint worked while Bill Clinton was president, so it's not surprising conservative media, working alongside Republicans, are trying to resurrect the strategy, hoping to create enough "foreign donation" hysteria to prompt some sort of inquiry.
"I think this warrants investigation," Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer recently stressed to Fox News.
Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy detailed the entanglements between several media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch that are promoting the upcoming book Clinton Cash from conservative activist Peter Schweizer.
In an April 27 column headlined "In Defense of the Clinton Foundation," Newsmax CEO and editor Christopher Ruddy -- who is himself a donor to the Foundation -- discussed the allegations made against the charity in Clinton Cash, which were recently hyped in a Fox News special. He writes that the claims in the book, which suggests the Clintons used donations to influence foreign policy, are "unsubstantiated, unconnected, and baseless," and tells journalists to "follow the money" when discussing the book itself, warning that "where there's smear, there's not always fact."
Ruddy notes, "The sister companies of News Corp and 21st Century Fox own HarperCollins, which published Peter Schweizer's book; they own The Wall Street Journal, which first raised the issue of the foreign donations; they own the New York Post, which broke the details about the Schweizer book; and they own Fox News, which gave the story oxygen and legs."
He adds, "With so much media mojo from one company, there is no doubt they will be doing some pretty good 'cashing in' from the many millions of dollars their new best-seller will generate."
Schweizer has a long history of errors and retractions, and the stories released from Clinton Cash fail to implicate former Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, or the Foundation in any wrongdoing. However, Murdoch properties have still promoted its claims.
Newsmax is a conservative publication, which has gone after the Clintons and other Democrats and progressives for years. But in the course of writing about the Clinton Cash allegations, Ruddy explains that he doesn't want to go back to the 1990s, "when one allegation led to a daisy-chain effect, and the GOP ended up looking bad as the Democrats kept winning."
Just one month after Fox News' Bill O'Reilly brazenly threatened a New York Times reporter, warning her he'd go after her "with everything" he had if he didn't like the article she was writing about him, Times reporter Jo Becker happily cooperated with Fox News for its 60-minute special, The Tangled Clinton Web, which aired April 24.
Based on the pending book Clinton Cash, which is being published by Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins and heavily promoted by Murdoch's Fox News, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal and Murdoch's New York Post, The Tangled Clinton Web represented a mishmash of half-baked Clinton conspiracies that had Hillary and Bill Clinton at the center of a supposed vast web of international bribes and payoffs.
And yet there, featured amidst the waves of misinformation, was a New York Times reporter. Becker's Fox News' appearance was noteworthy, not only because of O'Reilly's stated contempt for the newspaper. But because Times journalists don't make a habit of regularly appearing on openly partisan Fox News, a cable channel that has embraced claims of Obama birtherism and has depicted the president of the United States as a racist, communist sympathizer who apologizes for America. (According to the Times' newsroom guidelines, when appearing on television programs staffers are supposed to avoid forums "that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering.")
Why the Becker appearance? In part, because she wrote a controversial piece last week that was inspired by Clinton Cash. Part of the Times' unusual "exclusive" arrangement with the book's author, Becker's article tried, and failed, to show how donations to the Clinton Foundation influenced Clinton's State Department when it signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with uranium mining claims in the U.S., to the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom.
By cooperating with the Fox News Clinton special, a program that was drowning in misinformation, Becker and the Times lent the Fox effort a desperately needed sheen of legitimacy. (i.e. 'Even the liberal New York Times....') And that's likely why prior to The Tangled Clinton Web airing, when Fox released to the media a clip of the special, the clip featured Becker's interview--Fox was proudly brandishing its Times alliance.
What would be the only topic that could create such a strange partnership where The New York Times, the world's most famous news organization, was working hand-in-a-hand with a media outlet that during the last presidential campaign abandoned all pretense of independent journalism and produced and aired its own four-minute political attack ad?
The endless pursuit of the Clintons, of course.