I don’t believe for one minute that Rupert Murdoch has “retired.” I don’t believe he will be “stepping back” from guiding both Fox Corporation and Newscorp. As one of his top lieutenants put it, years ago, “the day Rupert draws his last breath will be the day he’s no longer in charge.”
Most of this week’s breathless press coverage of Mr. Murdoch’s retirement revolved around the question of his stepping back; what that will mean in the short term and what will happen to the enterprise(s) when Murdoch takes his last breath. Inevitably, the HBO series Succession was invoked to embellish matters.
Curiously, the political story of Murdoch’s retirement received little mention. But that embedded story tells a larger story, which is this: Trump won.
Murdoch’s attempt(s) to persuade the populist base of the Republican Party to abandon Trump — after two-and-a-half years of concerted effort — has ended in failure. Dozens of Wall Street Journal editorials and scathing New York Post headlines have fallen on deaf ears. Fox News Channel’s ceaseless attempts to promote Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the chosen one (A New York Post headline, memorably, called him “DeFuture”) has fallen on deafer ears.
The DeSantis campaign, with Fox News’ full and fulsome support, has lost ground since his announcement of candidacy, to the point that he’s 20 percentage points down in Iowa, almost 40 percentage points behind Trump in New Hampshire and something like 35 percentage points down nationally.
DeSantis’s campaign now requires a strong showing in Iowa or it’s over. Indeed, the situation is so dire that Murdoch himself reportedly encouraged Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to enter the race, to take DeSantis’s place as Fox’s chosen one. This is not what anyone in Murdoch’s domain had in mind in the aftermath of the Trump presidency’s chaotic and disgraceful end.
For years and years, Fox has sold the story that it’s the most influential news outlet in the nation. The “mainstream” press peddled it as well. So did the “digital” types. The latter two imagined that Fox News Channel had “elected” Trump in 2016 and had nearly done so in 2020.
They also said Fox News Channel “programmed” its audience and that it controlled the political debate in Red America. “Deplorables” had no minds of their own. They did what they were told. And masterminding it all was Rupert Murdoch, the savviest political media operator of his generation and a force of nature for 70 years.
That narrative worked wonders for Fox. It was largely agreed. No one dared challenge the mighty machine. No one, that is, except Donald Trump.
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