“No second acts in American lives,” F Scott Fitzgerald famously said, and Rupert Murdoch is now learning. A “settlement” was negotiated between Dominion and Fox News last week, just before the $1.6bn defamation trial began. Fox CEO Murdoch spent over $800m to end the proceedings.
Murdoch likes his image as a swaggering media titan, so it was probably worth it. Otherwise, he would have had to testify under oath, revealing an elderly, frail mogul who could not stop his TV station from pandering to Donald Trump for fear of alienating the audience that had made Fox News so profitable.
Suddenly, it appears the titan’s career may end quietly. Recently, Murdoch’s sanity has been questioned. He dumped his fourth wife, supermodel Jerry Hall, last June, despite her having been a good wife and caring for him during numerous major illnesses. He then engaged to conservative radio presenter Ann Lesley Smith. Engagement ended two weeks later.
No strategic genius would act like this. Murdoch’s worldwide media empire shows strategic brilliance and military boldness.
After buying the News of the World, the Sun, and Times Newspapers, he invaded Britain. This last transaction indicated his strategy: find influential lawmakers and get them on board.
The titan’s career may end quietly.
He wanted to avoid the Monopolies and Mergers Commission blocking his 1981 buyout of Times Newspapers on competition grounds. After a secret lunch in Chequers with Margaret Thatcher, she returned to No. 10 and reshuffled two ministers to move John Nott, the trade minister who would oversee the acquisition, to defence and replace him with John Biffen, a gentle and innocent media novice. The commission was never notified of the arrangement. QED.
This shaped Murdoch’s career. His political interest was always instrumental. His newspapers supported Thatcher when she needed it, and she helped him destroy trade union power. The Metropolitan police became a strike-breaking army after Murdoch covertly transferred all his printing plants overnight to Wapping to smash the print unions.
Murdoch hated the British establishment, including the BBC. It was mutually hated. Dennis Potter named his cancerous tumor “Rupert” while dying.
Murdoch newspapers often behaved wildly and often criminally, but he didn’t care because the UK was a sideshow. His main goal was to conquer the US, where he migrated in the 1980s and became a naturalized citizen to buy media properties.
He founded Fox News in 1996 and bought the Wall Street Journal and New York Post. He has to face Donald Trump eventually.
As Lenin would have said, Trump was an idiot but unexpectedly useful.
Murdoch was appalled by the tycoon’s 2016 presidential bid. Murdoch called Trump “an idiot” and was outraged by his nativism, anti-immigration stance, and “know-nothingism”. His WSJ even attacked Trump during the primary.
Murdoch’s political utilitarianism began soon after Trump’s election. Vanity Fair calls Fox News “de facto state TV”. As Lenin may have said, Trump was an idiot but now helpful. Trump invited Murdoch to the White House shortly after inauguration. In one photo, Michael Gove seems even more like a gargoyle.
Murdoch’s new access to the president is unclear, but his worries about Google and Facebook harming newspapers’ economic models may have persuaded the justice department to begin an antitrust inquiry into Google. Murdoch also advised Trump to expand fracking and choose anti-abortion supreme court justices, which he did.
Biden’s 2020 win upset this applecart. Trump’s unwillingness to accept the result greatly squeezed Murdoch. Fox News promoted the “stolen election” conspiracy theory, claiming that algorithms in Dominion voting machines stealthily transferred votes to Biden at the Venezuelan government’s instruction. Murdoch would have stopped this. He didn’t. He may regret it later.