Lachlan Murdoch wants empathy for Fox hosts who push propaganda and racism

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Amid growing pressure on advertisers to distance themselves from Fox News, Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, told CNBC host Andrew Ross Sorkin that critics should be more tolerant of what airs on the network. Talking to Sorkin at The New York Times’ DealBook conference, Murdoch also claimed that the “biggest critics of Fox News are not watching Fox News,” and that President Donald Trump does not like Fox News, but rather “dislikes us less than everyone else.”

Murdoch refused to take any responsibility for the company that he runs, instead offering a load of horseshit for an elite audience. While Murdoch claimed that Fox News just runs banal conservative programming in prime time, the network is actually broadcasting white nationalist propaganda indistinguishable from the likes of David Duke. And while Murdoch refused to acknowledge a revolving door between Fox News and the Trump White House, Trump is dialing up Fox hosts from the White House, and Fox is hiring people who leave the administration. Murdoch can pretend that Fox News is a normal news organization -- and he wasn’t really pressed on the matter because Sorkin isn’t terribly familiar with what happens on the network -- but the reality is that Fox News is a right-wing propaganda machine.

Murdoch repeatedly pointed to Fox anchor Shep Smith to deny that the network is a pro-Trump operation. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple discussed yesterday why this is laughable. In fact, the network repeatedly airs claims that Smith already debunked. Contrary to Lachlan’s assertions, Smith does not redeem Fox News. Instead, he reveals Fox News for the cesspool it is.

Murdoch also highlighted Martha Maccallum as an example of straight news coverage, which is even more baffling if one is familiar with her Fox shows.

Murdoch’s appearance came as Fox News is bleeding advertisers because of what the network’s talent puts on the air. Don’t take our word for it -- that remark comes from Murdoch’s own ad chief. And as Media Matters President Angelo Carusone noted recently, “Fox News’ most prominent shows -- the ones that are supposed to be most palatable for advertisers -- are also defined by bigotry, extremism, conspiracy theories, and outright volatility. From a business perspective, they’re a bad bet.”

Sorkin gave the last question to esteemed New Yorker critic Ken Auletta, who asked Murdoch if he’s embarrassed by Fox News programming. Murdoch pivoted immediately into standard right-wing talking points that more tolerance is needed for conservatives who are under threat.

After a week in which a would-be mass bomber and a mass shooter were inspired by right-wing propaganda indistinguishable from what Fox News airs, that embrace of victimhood rings more than a little hollow.

From The New York Times DealBook conference, as broadcast by CNBC’s YouTube page:

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN (MODERATOR): Let me ask you this, because as I said when you sat down, there's a lot of questions about the political discourse right now. And Fox News has come under question, criticism, fire, all sorts of things. When you think about the future of Fox News -- so Fox, new Fox -- is this supposed to be a red state media organization? I mean, do you think about it like that?

LACHLAN MURDOCH (21st CENTURY FOX EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN): No, I think about it as an all-state media organization, right. So we have to program -- and by the way, you’re talking about Fox News, but the television network, the TV stations, Fox Sports, nonpolitical, unpolitical media businesses -- we program to everyone, right. So it's to the coasts, it's to California and New York, but also everywhere in between.

SORKIN: But let me ask you this then, and this is where it gets complicated in the business. Because of the criticism -- and there is a lot of it, I want to talk about false flags and all sorts of other things -- there are people in the business who I imagine you would want to do business with who don't want to do business with you. This is the co-creator of Modern Family, Steve Levitan, who is -- you produced --


SORKIN: -- Modern Family for all these years. He goes and says the following, and this is about you: “I sincerely hope Lachlan Murdoch recognizes the damage this is doing” -- this is about the network -- “and finally brings sound journalistic ethics and standard to his network before more unhinged people are riled up to send bombs and shoot up churches and synagogues. I'm not going to do anything for the Fox network ever again as long as Fox News remains such a destructive voice in our society.” When you hear that, you think what?

MURDOCH: I know Steve pretty well. I think he's a genius, he's certainly a genius storyteller. And what makes, what makes Steve so good is that he has a huge amount of empathy, you know. People who tell stories -- and you're a writer, right -- people who tell stories, they have empathy and then they, they channel the empathy from people around them, right. And so what Steve is doing -- and I completely understand this and I accept his opinion on this -- he feels, frankly, the, you know, the anger and you know the intolerance of opinions that we're seeing across all of our community today in America. And so, and so you know when I hear that or read it on Twitter or wherever he wrote that, I completely understand where that's coming from. Now having said that, you have to look at our platforms, right. We have, you know whether it's people who look at Fox News and frankly, our biggest critics of Fox News are not watching Fox News. Right?

SORKIN: Well they’re [CROSSTALK]

MURDOCH: They’re taking up, they’re picking up pieces from Twitter and social media elsewhere. But you have to look at, you know, The Wall Street Journal. You have to look at The Times of London or the Australian --

SORKIN: But I would say, but I would say there’s a distinction between what The Wall Street Journal op-ed page does and what you see on Fox News. And when I mentioned false flags before, or the conspiracy theories, the idea of trafficking in some of these ideas, even last week -- I don’t know if Ed Stacks is still here from Pittsburgh -- some of these ideas, I mean, are you -- when you see that stuff, are you proud of that?

MURDOCH: So let me pick up a couple of points that you made. So if you look at Fox News today, right, and I think this would surprise most people -- most critics, who again frankly aren’t watching -- if you look across an average day, if we QMR opinion, right, our opinion timeslots, right, 8 o’clock to 11 o’clock at night. And I’ll even throw in breakfast, right, Fox & Friends mid-morning. It’s about 14 million viewers, QMing that time period up. In our news hours -- and you can’t, you know, Chris Wallace, Shepard Smith, Martha MacCallum, no, no, let me [Crosstalk]

SORKIN: I know, I appreciate that.

MURDOCH: In our news hours, 22 million viewers in those news hours. So far more people watching the news hours than the opinion hours. And so when, then to go to your point, when, I think it was on Lou Dobbs, right?


MURDOCH: There was a guest on Lou Dobbs who said something the other day. The guest was immediately banned from coming back on, and Fox News apologized immediately.

SORKIN: But were you upset about that personally?

MURDOCH: We wouldn’t ban him and apologize if you didn’t think it was a mistake.

SORKIN: OK, let me ask you the difference -- [Crosstalk]

MURDOCH: And so, and so, news organizations, all news organizations, right, in particular ones that are 24/7. When they get something wrong, they have a responsibility, an absolute responsibility to correct it and to apologize for it when they need to.

SORKIN: How do you feel about the fact that President Trump likes your network so much? And I say it because as a journalist, I want people to respect the news that I’m providing, I want them to need the news that I’m providing. But I’m not sure I’d always want them to like it as effusively --


SORKIN: As the president seems to when it comes to Fox News.

MURDOCH: I think he dislikes us less than everyone else. If you look at Shepard like -- if you look at Shepard Smith, if you look at Chris Wallace, if you look at Geraldo was on Fox & Friends this morning criticizing the president, there is a huge number of hours a day, you know, guests, contributors, you know, that do not agree with the president --

SORKIN: Do you think Fox News is contributing to any of this? And the reason I ask is you look the truck of the fellow who was sending out bombs to prominent Democrats last week, and there are pictures of Trump everywhere. There’s a big sticker that says “CNN sucks” right on it, which almost felt like it was out of a Fox show. I mean, is there any of that that you say to yourself, “You know what, that part I’m not proud of”?

MURDOCH: I don’t think -- I don’t take responsibility for a criminal who was a criminal before Fox News even started, right, in the case that you’re mentioning. And so I think it’s unfair to make that criticism of me or Fox News or of any other media organization. So, but what I can say is that when we make mistakes -- and all news organizations do make mistakes -- it’s our responsibility as it is everyone’s to correct them and to apologize for them.

SORKIN: Let me ask you though, related to the image though of the closeness between Fox and the administration. Obviously you just hired Hope Hicks, I’d love to understand that decision, choice, and even thinking about the optics of that. Bill Shine, by the way, who used to work with you, then went to the White House. And that creates -- at the minimum it creates an optics issue. Do you think about that?

MURDOCH: I’ll maybe explain. We didn’t have anything to do with Bill Shine. We -- Bill Shine left Fox News and was gone for a while before he went to the White House. In terms of Hope, you know, we have an incredible opportunity in that we -- so with new Fox, what we’re doing is we’re bringing these companies in that are established, you know, profitable businesses with, you know, very strong brands. You know, Fox News, Fox Sports, the network, and then that business will make about $2.5 billion in its first year. But what we’re able to do, because this is a new company, is put a completely new management structure in place above that. And it’s really a once -- it sounds like a cliche, it is a cliche -- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create this entirely new management structure to lead the company going forward. So what we’ve done is we’ve said, “Well how do we hire” -- this is, we do see this as a -- and there’s an endpoint, there’s you know, January or February when the new company comes out, everything has got to be in place and you’ve got to hit the ground running. So how do we hire the absolute best executives into those roles, how do we hire -- so we hired Charlie Collier from AMC, fantastic executive to run the TV network. We obviously promoted some months ago, Suzanne Scott to run Fox News, Eric Shanks to run Fox Sports. And Hope Hicks, we found out she was looking for her next job, said this is an incredible executive with incredible experience, who frankly will do a tremendous job -- no connection to the White House, no --

SORKIN: Reports that Jared Kushner and others had talked to your father --

MURDOCH: Talked to me. Hundred percent false, hundred percent false.

SORKIN: OK, I’m glad that we set the record straight on that. Let me ask you a couple other quick questions.

MURDOCH: Oh by the way, I should just mention, when we did do our due diligence on Hope, because it’s something you do, you go out and you interview someone and then you check their references, and you also call around -- someone in that role, in public relations, I had an advisor of mine call people she would have worked with, and universally -- and I should mention that many people from The New York Times -- universally said she was a fantastic choice.

SORKIN: OK. Politics inside your family, when you -- do you consider yourself a conservative, a Republican, what are your own politics? And also I want to know about the conversations you have with James, because I think there’s a perception that he may be on the other side of you.

MURDOCH: So look, I am -- I consider myself -- look, I’m conservative probably economically, on the economic sort of policy. I’m more liberal on social policy. And so I don’t fit neatly into a left-right, Republican-Democrat bucket, right? And so -- which I think is frankly important -- I think you need to be, particularly running media organizations, you need to be an independent thinker. What I do find is that when people tell me to think a certain way, or that I should think a certain way, I’m more inclined --

SORKIN: To think a different way.

MURDOCH: To think a different way, or certainly examine, why are they telling me that.

SORKIN: Because I think James is on the other side, do you guys ever talk about what’s on Fox News?

MURDOCH: Occasionally, occasionally. And James, to his credit, he’s incredibly strong on and gives a lot of money to environmental causes and so -- but you know, we are, we run a business with lots of different opinions, on different sides in our business. And we are a family with lots of different --

SORKIN: OK, final question because I know we all have to run to lunch and I’m going to run out of time. Ken Auletta, of course from The New Yorker.


KEN AULETTA (THE NEW YORKER CONTRIBUTOR): You mentioned that you are a social liberal, or to the left on social issues. You also extolled the word empathy. If you watch the prime-time programing on Fox News, it’s the opposite of that. Empathy is not championed, and they’re socially very conservative. Do you plan to make any changes in that since you have strong views on these things?

MURDOCH: Look, I do have strong views on these things and I think I can -- and you know this because you know our companies very well -- we, I’ve run newspapers since I was 21 or 22 years old. You know, I don’t -- and it’s a practice I have had, I know it’s a standard practice, it should be if it isn’t, but I think it is a standard practice in almost every newsroom, certainly in the Western world. I don’t tell journalists what to say, or what to write. That’s not my role. What I do do, running a media organization, is obviously, you know, work closely with the managers of those newsrooms and with the managers of those newspapers, and it’s important that they get the positioning and the messaging right. We don’t always get it right. We don’t always get it right, and we have to call ourselves out on that when we make a mistake.  

AULETTA: I understand that [inaudible]. But are you embarrassed by what they do?

MURDOCH: No, I’m not embarrassed by what they do at all. You have to understand that Fox News is the only mass media company in America, in this country, with conservative opinion, with strong conservative opinion in prime time. It’s the only one, alright? It’s not one of a few, it’s the only one. And I frankly feel in this country, we all have to be more tolerant of each other’s views. And that does for everyone, everyone in this room, everyone in this country, everyone on both coasts, and in the middle. And that’s the problem -- we’ve come to this point where we are more and more intolerant of each other and frankly that just has to change.

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