Rupert and me: part 2
Updated: Aug 16
Bear in mind that what I first wrote about Rupert Murdoch was published on 16 April, days before the Dominion Voting Machines eye-watering out-of-court settlement of their defamation case against Fox News. Fox agreed to pay them 787.5 million US dollars (AU$1.18 billion, €713.6 million, £626.3million). I want some Brownie points for accurate prediction.
What will Rupert do now, I asked rhetorically? I had a theory, which the American commentariat seems to have missed, based on Rupert’s sworn deposition for the Dominion trial. If I was right … well, you read it there first.
Rupert’s first concern will be to save the Fox TV chain. That means that he will throw even network stars under the bus if he deems it necessary to protect his business (‘Bye-bye Tucker Carlson’). With that in mind, here are some direct quotes from Rupert’s deposition testimony under oath for the Dominion court case.
Question: In fact you are now aware that Fox endorsed at times the false notion of a stolen election?
Rupert: Not Fox. No. Not Fox. Maybe Lou Dobbs [sacked in February], maybe Maria [Bartiromo] [If I were Maria, I wouldn’t be making long-term plans involving Fox], as commentators.
Question: We went through Fox hosts Maria Bartiromo, yes?
Rupert: Yes. C’mon.
Question: Fox host Jeanine Pirro?
Rupert : I think so.
Question: Fox Business host Lou Dobbs [already sacked]?
Rupert: Oh, a lot.
Question: Fox host Sean Hannity?
Rupert: A bit [if I were Sean then, like Maria and Jeanine, I wouldn’t make long-term plans involving Fox].
Question: About Fox endorsing the narrative of a stolen election; correct?
Rupert: No. Some of our commentators [my emphasis] were endorsing it.
Question: About their endorsement of a stolen election?
Rupert: Yes. They endorsed.
What can it all mean? It strikes me as pretty obvious that Rupert intends to protect Fox by laying all the blame on his stars. It’s a bit like my defaming somebody in a telephone call, and that somebody sues the telephone company instead of me. Except in Rupert’s case that defence won’t work. The difference between Fox and AT&T is surely that Fox controls the content of its broadcasts while AT&T makes no claim to control the content of telephone conversations.
I must say if I was Sean Hannity I’d call my agent and suggest that it’s time for a new job, not with Fox. Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro too. ‘Maybe’ and ‘a bit’ are hardly ringing endorsements from the boss.
And in early February of this year Fox News announced baldly: 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' will no longer appear on the network.' That’s what ‘a lot’ gets you these days in Rupertsville.
There you have it. I’d say one down, many to go.
Meanwhile, the Dominion lawsuit is having a bizarre ripple effect, even in my own country Australia. What seems to have spooked Rupert in the Dominion case was the stated threat that he, Rupert, would have to testify and face cross examination. Insofar as Fox has resolutely failed to inform its viewers that Dominion won and Fox caved, Rupert has clearly decided that the survival of the Fox network depends on no dirty linen being washed in public. And that takes us to Australia, where the Murdoch saga began.
Australians use the word ‘crikey’ to express surprise to the point of disbelief. So a news and opinion web site calling itself Crikey should be filled with stories that shock and surprise. And so it is
Back in 19 April last year Crikey published an article under the headline Trump is a confirmed, unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator. The article was mostly about Trump. The sub-headline read: New evidence to the January 6 committee shows just how treacherous Trump was but will it prise loose his grip on Republicans? Towards the end the article changed emphasis and sought to justify the second half of the main headline naming Murdoch. The word Murdoch appeared only twice in the whole article.
Now most people would have taken the Murdoch in question to be Rupert. But Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s son, was titular chairman of Fox at the time and he sued for defamation. Crikey responded by making clear that it welcomed the court hearing and fully intended to cross-examine Lachlan in the witness box, using as a basis for its questions the various incriminating texts and emails uncovered by Dominion during pre-trial ‘discovery’.
Guess what? Lachlan caved.
Rather than face uncomfortable questions about Crikey’s right to free speech, as Dominion faced from Fox, Rupert and Son appear to have decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and they withdrew the action. They must have calculated that any attack on Crikey’s free speech rights in suing for defamation might have been a tad unhelpful to Fox’s lawyers if they had been forced into a last resort First Amendment defence of Fox’s otherwise indefensible actions in support of Trump. What’s good for the goose is famously good for the gander. Add to that the fact that Australian court tradition means Fox will be stuck with Crikey’s costs, which should be rather less arduous than the AU$1.1 billion paid to Dominion., or the cost of trying to make yourself heard over the flapping of silk in a major and long-running Australian court case.
It doesn’t end there for Fox. They have two more expensive payouts looming. Smartmatic, Dominion’s great rival in the US voting machine market, is suing Fox for similar defamation to the tune of US$2.7 billion. And a group of shareholders is said to be putting together a ‘class action’, whereby they jointly sue the Fox directors including the Murdochs for their incompetence in allowing the company’s shares to be devalued by millions of dollars by their knowing connivance in all these shenanigans.
PS I realise I omitted from my 16 April blog entry one major expertise of Rupert’s: demographics. When he bought The Sun newspaper from IPC, he hired as its first editor Larry Lamb, an almost comically no-nonsense Yorkshireman who had been northern editor of the Daily Mail. Between them Larry and Rupert identified a previously unrecognised tribe: the cheeky working class. Members of the group had no time for politicians, bosses, union leaders, foreigners (especially migrants), the church and anyone claiming to be an expert. Led by their heroine Margaret Thatcher, they turned I’m-all-right-Jack into a religion. Their priests were Maggie (of course), themselves and The Sun, which went from a low start (600k circulation) to overtake the mighty Daily Mirror and become Britain’s biggest-selling daily paper with over 4 million daily sales. The cheeky working class were the backbone of The Sun’s rise and I suspect their US counterparts may have done much to elect Donald Trump and put Fox at the top of cable network ratings They are Rupert’s and Trump’s secret army, and with a bit of luck they’ll soon find themselves demobbed.