How Murdoch’s media empire turned on Trump in 2022
An increasingly sour relationship between former President Trump, Fox News and the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire that has been building for months has come to a head in the weeks following the midterm elections.
It is a rift that is being watched closely in political and media circles given the power of Fox News and other media entities owned by Murdoch in potentially shaping the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
Trump has already mounted a new run for the presidency, but many of Murdoch’s press outlets are either outright criticizing Trump or flirting with other political leaders.
And that could hurt Trump’s new bid for the White House, which is already off to a stumbling start amid criticism of him from other Republicans.
“Trump’s superpower is getting all the coverage. That’s not happening anymore. Fox is not covering him 24 hours a day,” Daniel Cassino, a media expert who wrote a 2016 book about Fox’s influence over American politics, told The Hill earlier this year. “So, it seems that is leading to frustration that he’s not dominating Fox the way he did before.”
Trump could typically count on several leading hosts at Fox News, and columnists at the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, all owned by Murdoch, during his presidency for supportive or at least sympathetic coverage of his administration and regular attacks on his political enemies.
But as his first term drew to a close, Trump grew increasingly vocal about his frustrations with Murdoch.
Things also came to a head on election night 2020 when Fox was the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden, a decision that infuriated Trump and that led to an effort by officials with his campaign to get Fox to reverse its call.
After Trump refused to concede, floating unfounded claims about electoral fraud, Murdoch reportedly reached a breaking point with Trump, who complained to the media mogul directly about the Arizona call.
Eventually, Murdoch came to distance himself from Trump in public.
“It is crucial that conservatives play an active, forceful role in that debate, but that will not happen if President Trump stays focused on the past,” Murdoch said in remarks at an annual meeting of News Corp. stockholders days after the election. “The past is the past, and the country is now in a contest to define the future.”
Two years later, media and political observers note the tone on Trump from outlets like the Journal and Post has shifted in a big way.
Murdoch’s outlets in recent months have sent the message that they “see Trump as more of an anchor than a life preserver when it comes to the kind of politics they’d like to see,” said Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of advertising emeritus at Boston University.
“They all see that Trump is no longer the lunch bucket for them when it comes to ratings and readership,” Berkovitz said. “Ironically, MSNBC, CNN and some of the mainstream media are riding the Trump pony for all its worth.”
Fox remains the top-rated network on cable, with one recent study showing it is watched by a larger portion of Democrats and independents than other networks, a byproduct of its outsized audience share.
“There’s a good chance of Fox News maintaining, regardless of whatever its direct relationship with Trump, the view that its core consumer is one that wants to hear good things about Republicans and bad things about Democrats,” said Josh Pasek, associate professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan. “If you look at what’s on Fox News, it’s a lot of the same stuff that was on Fox News before Trump.”
Murdoch has made other moves telegraphing an increasingly frosty view of the former president.
In September of last year, he hired the bombastic British television host Piers Morgan, who has publicly sparred with the former president, to host a show on U.K.-based TalkTV and write regular columns for the Post.
Fox News also stopped airing Trump rallies and speeches in full after his presidency came to an end. One exception came in November when the former president held an event at Mar-a-Lago announcing a bid for the White House in 2024.
Also complicating Murdoch’s relationship with Trump is the emergence of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose sweeping gubernatorial victory this year sparked a screaming headline in the print edition of the New York Post the day after the midterms declaring DeSantis ‘DEFUTURE.’
Positive coverage of DeSantis in Murdoch’s media seems to be irking Trump.
In July, the former president slammed Fox’s flagship morning program “Fox & Friends,” saying it had “gone to the dark side” after its hosts talked about a poll showing voters favoring DeSantis over Trump.
Fox still employs a number of contributors and pundits who were either part of Trump’s administration or closely aligned with the former president, such as Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany and Larry Kudlow.
Some pundits on Fox who’ve been loyal supporters of the former president have stopped short of blaming him for the GOP’s recent string of losses, and instead have expressed frustration with Republican leadership in Washington, D.C. This echoes Trump, who has also criticized GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“We have the same people in place in leadership. The same people in place, apparently, at the RNC [Republican National Committee], perhaps that’s not changing. We just keep doing the same thing over and over again. I’m pissed tonight, frankly. I’m mad,” longtime conservative pundit Laura Ingraham said on her show after Herschel Walker, a Trump-backed Senate candidate, lost in a run-off race to incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D).
Some of the criticism of Trump on Fox has been more direct.
“He seems to be losing what used to be his iron grip on the GOP, and he still has a hard core of supporters who will follow them regardless, but many of the 74 million people who voted for him in 2020 have been turned off,” Fox Business host Stuart Varney said on his show this month.
“What this is really showing is that Trump was not using the media as much as the media was using him,” said Yphtach Lelkes, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “And that he is no longer as useful to these media companies, so they’ve moved on.”
Trump and Murdoch have feuded before, and Trump could see his political fortunes rise again. That leads some observers to believe the two could set their differences aside if doing so becomes mutually beneficial.
“Once more candidates jump into the primary fray and split the anti-Trump vote, Trump’s front-runner status will solidify — and Fox News will remember why it crushed on Trump in the first place,” Thomas Gift, an associate professor and the director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London wrote in a recent op-ed for The Hill.com. “The station’s already proven once that it prioritizes dating a winner.”