Fox News’ instantaneous, furious response to the FBI executing a court-approved search on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence should put an end to claims that the network, or Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, who control it, have somehow “turned on” the former president.
Journalists are typically more interested in changes in narrative than consistent ones – their job, after all, is to identify the news. It’s natural for them to probe for a shift in Trump’s relationships with his political allies. But any argument that Trump’s propagandists are abandoning him should always be carefully scrutinized. If the Murdochs or others at Fox wanted to move on from Trump, they would have to reckon with the possibility of a viewer revolt. Trump retains the loyalty of the Republican base which doubles as Fox’s core audience, and in the past, he has effectively wielded that influence to dominate the network when he has perceived it as insufficiently supportive.
Nonetheless, blistering July 22 editorials from the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and New York Post, which condemned Trump’s refusal to stop the January 6 insurrection in light of revelations from the select committee investigating that attack, triggered a rash of responses from journalists overly eager to identify a vibe shift. Their accounts featured headlines like, “Why Rupert Murdoch Is Finally Done With Donald Trump” (Politico Magazine senior media columnist Jack Shafer), “The Murdochs and Trump aligned for mutual benefit. That may be changing.” (The Washington Post), “Even Rupert Murdoch appears to be done with Trump as a younger generation eyes 2024” (Vanity Fair) and “Is Murdoch tiring of Trump?” (The Guardian). The New York Times created a similar stir a few days later when it reported that due to “the Murdochs’ discomfort with Mr. Trump,” Fox is “now often bypassing him in favor of showcasing other Republicans” and “effectively displacing him from his favorite spot: the center of the news cycle.”
The slew of arguments that the Murdochs had abandoned Trump suffered from a failure to grapple sufficiently with coverage provided by their biggest megaphone: Fox. Hours after the publication of the Post and Journal editorials, Tucker Carlson – the network’s biggest star, who owes his position to the benevolence of the Murdochs – used his primetime show to offer a lengthy denunciation not of Trump, but of the January 6 select committee, which he said represented “the single greatest threat to the rule of law in the history of the United States.” Indeed, the network’s most popular hosts still treat the former president as a figure of reverence, its programming mentions Trump far more frequently than other Republican leaders like former Vice President Mike Pence or Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and it promotes his rallies on its social media channels and its streaming service, where he has a dedicated page.
But if the hypothesis was never all that credible, last night turned it to ash.
In the hours after news broke of the FBI searching Mar-a-Lago, Fox personalities and their guests described it as “the worst attack on this republic in modern history” and a “preemptive coup.” They offered not only defenses of Trump, who was portrayed as the victim of a “partisan witch hunt,” but incendiary calls to action – Fox host Jesse Watters suggested that “honest Americans” should be “out on the streets” in response, while Laura Ingraham argued that “the real target of this investigation is you.”
The list of guests Fox has hosted to defend Trump includes Eric Trump, his son; Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law and a Fox contributor; Stephen Miller, his former White House aide; Kayleigh McEnany, his White House press secretary and a Fox co-host; Jeffrey Clark, the former assistant attorney general he wanted to install as attorney general; Matt Whitaker, his former acting attorney general; and Russ Vought, his former head of the Office of Management and Budget. The network even let Trump adviser Steve Bannon call in to the network to compare the FBI to the Gestapo. That’s significant, as just days ago Bannon attacked the Murdochs for turning “their entire media Empire,” including Fox, against Trump.
A network that has turned on a politician does not have its lineup instantaneously going to the mat for that politician and filling the airwaves with his family members and former staffers.
Fox – and the Murdochs – remain firmly in Trump’s corner. Observers should exercise more discretion before they rush to conclude that that has changed.