Reliable Sources Examines Trump's Alliance With Rupert Murdoch While Fox Is Under Federal Investigation

NPR's David Folkenflik: “We Don't Know How This Justice Department Will Act When It Involves An Ally Of The President”

From the May 7 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

Video file

BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Let me ask you, does this look inappropriate to you? Let's pull up the pictures from last Thursday night. While President Trump's Justice Department is investigating Fox News, here's Trump embracing the man in charge of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch. The two men sang each other's praises at a gala dinner here in New York on Thursday, with Murdoch introducing Trump. 


[David] Zurawik, when there's a federal investigation of a [cable news] network, and the network's head honcho is hanging out with the president, does it look inappropriate? And, is it inappropriate? 

DAVID ZURAWIK: Brian, it totally looks inappropriate. This is the style, though, of both of those men -- in your face. I saw that and I was so angry when I saw it and I thought Donald Trump, this is what you ran on. The world was not going to be run with winks and nods and secret handshakes by the one percent. You were going to stand up for people, and here you are, hugging this guy and saying all these wonderful things about each other at this event. This is exactly -- I was so upset. But you know what? You know what cheered me? Seeing [Douglas] Wigdor and [Lisa] Bloom because those lawyers are not going to let him off. And we can't let him off. Listen, I think [Murdoch] will try to do any influence he can, and Trump is so vulnerable because he has no friends in the media. Anybody who reports honestly is reporting what a disappointment he is and how erratic his behavior is. So, he's got to be nice to Murdoch, in a way. They are going to try to influence this thing. The only thing that can keep it honest are those attorneys and the press, us, talking about it right now. Saying, “Pay attention. This is dangerous. These guys are going to try to game the system, rig the -- stack the deck and rig this outcome.”

STELTER: It's reminiscent a little bit of Bill Clinton on the tarmac with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. That was a huge controversy for good reason. Then you look at this and wonder if there's something a little bit similar. So, [David] Folkenflik, you wrote a couple months ago that Murdoch and Trump have an alliance of mutual interests. That's how you describe it. Is it just transactional for the two of them? 

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: I don't think Rupert Murdoch -- as you pointed out in your introduction, Donald Trump was not Murdoch's chosen candidate. In fact, he was about16 or 17 candidates deep into who Murdoch might have wanted. But Murdoch is very pragmatic. Look, what you're seeing there -- David's captured some of the rhetorical contradictions in here -- but what you're seeing here is Murdoch is 86-year-old chief executive who doesn't have a lot of new tricks. But he's got a trick that he performs awfully well.

STELTER: What's that?

FOLKENFLIK: If you look at him in Australia, if you look at him in Great Britain, he's always managed to forge extremely close ties with prime ministers, with the top person in charge. And why? Because it's helped him. It's helped him win regulatory decisions. It's helped him get off the hook in trouble in these countries. It's helped him get great coups financially from governments. In this instance, you have Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump unified by common interests. It's helped propel Fox's ratings. But right now you've got that federal inquiry here in the Southern District of New York, and that is a huge deal. I mean, that's basically --

STELTER: Is it? Are we making too big a deal of the idea that a federal investigation -- 

FOLKENFLIK: I don't think you are at all. If you talk to the lawyers who know this stuff, they would say that in a normal circumstances, this would be about an eight or nine out of ten in terms of -- in terms of legal peril and concern for a corporation trying to deal with questions of culture that may stray into felonious criminal behavior. The wild card, of course, is that we don't know who Donald Trump is going to appoint to be the new U.S. attorney for the Southern District. And we don't know how this Justice Department will act when it involves an ally of the president. Do you really want to take on such an important and influential player in American politics, and particularly American Republican politics?


FOLKENFLIK: I mean, it seems to me that this is really a two-front war that he's fighting. He's fighting in some ways a three-front war. He's fighting the question of the federal inquiry, and they're starting to promise full cooperation with Justice Department in a way that had not been, in some ways, the stance you'd been hearing. That [law firm] Paul, Weiss is going to present their full findings -- 

STLETER: The investigators for Fox, yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: -- about the culture for women and what they've been learning about women making accusations. That had not been promised in the early goings. They've got the federal inquiry, of course. They've got the lawsuits that we've just heard about on this show, and they've got the question as you pointed out, of the -- whether they'll be able to accomplish this $14 billion takeover of Sky Broadcasting which would be a major coup particularly for James Murdoch, Rupert's son, but that he's wanted back in the fold for decades. So this is -- this is something where Murdoch is trying to do a full-court press in two different countries where they have such major stakes, such major holdings. And they've got a lot of mess. This is not resolved at Fox News. The culture is not significantly enough changed that people inside, the women I talked to inside Fox News, are not convinced that they can trust the leadership there at the network yet. 


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