James and Kathryn Murdoch must speak out against Fox News' attacks on democracy

mail-in graphic

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

James and Kathryn Murdoch, the son and daughter-in-law of conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, have not spoken out on Fox News’ constant attacks on mail-in voting despite their philanthropic efforts to promote voting by mail.

Voting by mail is the safest method during a pandemic. But Fox News, in concert with Donald Trump, has been advancing bad-faith attacks on the virtually nonexistent issue of mail-in voter fraud.

Fox News’ programming and Trump’s agenda heavily overlap, with Fox inspiring talking points and narratives pushed by the Trump administration and vice versa, including on this specific issue. Together, Trump and Fox News are attempting to manipulate the mail-in voting system while simultaneously eroding the public’s trust in the electoral process, setting the stage for an unprecedented constitutional crisis. A new working paper from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that Fox News and Trump were “far more influential in spreading false beliefs than Russian trolls or Facebook clickbait artists.”  

James and Kathryn Murdoch have publicly split from their family’s conservative news empire and co-founded Quadrivium, a nonprofit that focuses heavily on bridging the divide between the two parties on voting access and climate change, among other issues. Among other partnerships forged through Quadrivium, Kathryn Murdoch is a co-chair of the Unite America Institute, which  seeks to make voting “secure and accessible” and to create “successful implementation of vote at home in 2020,” which the group says has “been shown to increase voter participation in a nonpartisan way, save taxpayer dollars, and enhance the security of our elections.” Kathryn herself has spoken out against Trump’s reluctance to expand voting by mail as a “real missed opportunity from the White House” and has said she believes Republicans “are going to end up harming their own voters because lots of rural people are well served by the postal service.”

But James and Kathryn have remained silent about Fox’s constant stream of propaganda, which is priming its audience to reject any election outcome that does not favor Trump. Here are some examples of Fox News pushing right-wing narratives aimed to undermine the public’s confidence in the proven effectiveness of the vote-by-mail system:

  • On the April 9 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson suggested that Democrats currently favor mail-in voting because it is “an invitation to widespread fraud and manipulation.” Similarly, on August 17, Carlson baselessly claimed that “Democrats favor any form of voting that does not entail actual voters going to actual polling places” because “votes cast by mail are easier to tamper with.”
  • On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton said Democrats are “mailing almost a hundred million ballots and ballot applications to people who haven’t asked for them.” In response, Dobbs rhetorically asked, “Who decided that these ballots would be in the mail to whomever without any control,” and claimed the postal union workers “support left-wing radical Dem candidates,” suggesting they are attempting to steal the election. 
  • While on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhal pushed a thinly veiled and single-source New York Post story and said it alleged that an anonymous “Democratic operative” admitted to “throw[ing] out ballots cast for the other side” and that “postal workers are sometimes in on the scam.” 
  • During the August 11 edition of Hannity, Trump asserted that mail-in ballots will lead to “a rigged election” and “it’s going to be catastrophic corruption.” Hannity responded that he needed a photo ID to get into the 2016 Democratic National Convention, suggesting that it’s easier to engage in voter identity fraud than it is to get in the Democratic convention. 
  • Discussing mail-in voting on the August 5 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs groundlessly stated that Democrats are attempting to “subvert” the Trump presidency while they attempt to push “mail-in voter fraud.”  
  • On August 24, Dobbs insisted that “there may be about 80 million ballots that should be questioned” and pushed the idea that the country may have to re-do the election if mail-in ballots are allowed. 
  • During Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox’s “straight news” show, the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway suggested that current issues at the U.S. Postal Service prove mail-in ballots are “fraught with risk.”  
  • On Fox News' Outnumbered, “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum alleged that “there is reason to be very cautious” about voting by mail because the state of Michigan “had 864 dead people vote” during the August 4 state-wide primary election and “it's not a mistake.” She later corrected herself on air.
  • On Fox & Friends, Fox host Mark Levin said Democrats are “suddenly, this year, with this president, interested in mail-in voting” because they want to “collapse” and “overwhelm” the electoral system. 
  • Discussing Attorney General Bill Barr’s comments that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud, “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum agreed, saying he “speaks honestly.” 
  • Fox Business host Stuart Varney justified Trump’s July 30 tweet that the election should be delayed “until people can properly, securely and safely vote” by agreeing that voting by mail “the way it is scheduled now … is a mess.”  
  • On the July 8 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmaede suggested that those who vote by mail may feel “pressure” from their families to vote for a certain party, which he said makes mail-in voting “complex and convoluted.” On July 31, Kilmeade again attacked mail-in voting while claiming family members will be sending in ballots for each other and “some kids will grab their parents' ballot and send it” themselves. 
  • During the morning of September 17, Fox & Friends hosted Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of a conservative election-monitoring nonprofit, who claimed “radicalized leftist organizations” are “exploiting the weaknesses of our electoral process” via mail-in ballots. She got no pushback from the show’s hosts. 
  • Outnumbered Overtime hosted Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, who proposed Democrats are using the narrative that Trump is sabotaging the postal system as a strategic distraction the same way they used COVID-19. 

If James and Kathryn Murdoch are serious about advocating for reform within America’s electoral democracy, they need to speak out against Fox News’ reinforcement of pro-Trump narratives and propaganda against mail-in ballots.