As billionaire Rupert Murdoch announces he will resign as head of his media empire, we speak with Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the watchdog group Media Matters for America, about the right-wing mogul’s influence on journalism and politics over the last seven decades. The 92-year-old Murdoch will step down as chair of Fox Corporation and News Corporation in November, with his son Lachlan to head both companies that control Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and more. Carusone says as the elder Murdoch steps back, it’s important to “make sure that his legacy doesn’t get sugarcoated, that we are really cognizant of the scale of damage that he’s created,” which includes climate denialism and the growing influence of the far right in politics. Carusone also warns that Lachlan Murdoch is more conservative than his father, with a “nihilist” worldview that could make Fox News and other properties even more extreme.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Media billionaire Rupert Murdoch made a surprise announcement Thursday that he’s stepping down from his media empire and will put his son, Lachlan Murdoch, in charge. Rupert Murdoch is 92 years old. In November, he will transition to become chairman emeritus of both Fox Corporation and News Corporation. Lachlan Murdoch will become chairman of News Corporation and continue his position as chief executive officer of Fox Corp.
Murdoch’s media empire began in Australia in 1952 and quickly expanded. In 1969, he bought one of Britain’s oldest newspapers, News of the World, which he then shut down in 2011, after the tabloid was accused of eavesdropping on phone calls and hacking voicemails of missing children, families of soldiers killed in action and others. This is Rupert Murdoch testifying before the British Parliament’s Culture and Media Committee in 2011, questioned by Labour MP Tom Watson.
TOM WATSON: Mr. Murdoch, at what point did you find out that criminality was endemic at News of the World?
RUPERT MURDOCH: “Endemic” is a very hard — is a very wide-ranging word. And I also had to be extremely careful not to prejudice the course of justice, which is taking place now. That, that has been disclosed, I became aware as it came out.
AMY GOODMAN: The British parliamentary committee concluded Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch showed, quote, “willful blindness” about the scale of phone hacking at News of the World. The next year, a parliamentary report concluded Rupert Murdoch was, quote, “not a fit person” to run a major international media company. This is British Labour MP Tom Watson in 2012.
TOM WATSON: And everybody in the world knows who is responsible for the wrongdoing of News Corp.: Rupert Murdoch. More than any individual alive, he is to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. He paid the piper, and he called the tune. It is his company, his culture, his people, his business, his failures, his lies, his crimes, the price of profits and his power.
AMY GOODMAN: That was more than a decade ago. Well, here in the United States, critics say the right-wing TV network Fox News under Rupert Murdoch has long served as the communications arm of the Republican Party. In the past decade, it’s also faced a series of sexual harassment scandals. In 2016, the chair and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes, was forced to resign amidst multiple accusations of sexual harassment, along with primetime host Bill O’Reilly. This was Rupert Murdoch’s response in 2017 on the Sky News channel, which he founded.
IAN KING: How harmful has the whole raft of allegations about sexual harassment at Fox News been for the business? Has it?
RUPERT MURDOCH: Oh, that’s all nonsense. There was a problem with our chief executive, sort of over the years, but isolated instances. As soon as we investigated it, he was out of the place in hours. Well, three or four days. And there’s been nothing else since then.
AMY GOODMAN: Rupert Murdoch’s resignation comes after Fox News settled a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over 2020 election lies for nearly $800 million. Fox News is still facing a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic. Michael Wolff, author of the new book The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty, reports Murdoch was, quote, “frothing at the mouth” in anger at Donald Trump.
For more, we’re joined by Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. He has closely followed Murdoch and released a statement that Murdoch’s legacy is one of deceit, destruction and death.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Angelo. It’s great to have you with us. Can you respond to this surprise announcement yesterday?
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things to keep — the two things that I felt immediately was, one, to make sure that his legacy doesn’t get sugarcoated, that we are really cognizant of the scale of damage that he’s created. It’s not just the culture of corruption and lies that Tom Watson was quoted sort of referencing, but also the long tale of some of his active campaigns, in particular against climate change. I don’t think there’s a single person or entity in the world that has done more to promote climate denialism and undermine the efforts to combat that threat, and that will last for generations. And Rupert Murdoch, given the scale of his properties, was significant there. So that was the first thing, was to make sure that the legacy doesn’t get sugarcoated.
And then, the second was to sort of ring the alarm bell, which is that Lachlan Murdoch will actually be a lot worse in many respects. So, things, in some ways, will get both more chaotic and more extreme.
AMY GOODMAN: So, well, let’s talk about whether in fact Rupert Murdoch is stepping back.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Will he, behind the scenes, be in charge? And then, talk more about Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch, who in fact will ultimately be in charge.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah, that’s a really good point, and that’s also getting sort of glossed over, as well, in a lot of the coverage. In the statement where Rupert Murdoch’s announcement was made, one of the things that it also simultaneously emphasized was that he still intends to be heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the media properties. And I think when they say that, they also, in particular, mean Fox News. He goes to the Fox offices significantly more than Lachlan Murdoch does. Lachlan Murdoch mostly operates out of Australia. He calls in, you know, to engage in some events, but he doesn’t really run the place in the same way that Rupert Murdoch has. And according to the statement, Rupert Murdoch is still going to be there. So there’s going to be a shadow of Murdoch, and I think, in some respects, the culture will be sustained in part because his presence.
But from a decision-making capacity, what this does mean is that, at minimum, Lachlan Murdoch is going to have a lot more latitude to be sort of the ultimate and final decision maker, which is something that he shared with Rupert Murdoch up until this point. And that means that he’ll be able to sort of set the vision for the strategic investments that the business makes. And I think that’s going to be the one difference. But day to day, we’re not really going to feel much, except for the fact that Lachlan Murdoch has a tolerance for even more extreme content than Rupert Murdoch does.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise to many, given that he’s 92 years old.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But some are saying that the reason he stepped down so quickly, this surprise announcement, was because he doesn’t want to testify in the Smartmatic case. Explain what happened. I mean, you have this corporation that now has to pay nearly —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — $800 million to Dominion — and explain what that was about — and now Smartmatic, $2.7 billion.
ANGELO CARUSONE: So, it’s really hard to overstate just how damaging for Fox Corporation Rupert Murdoch’s deposition was in the Dominion case. It was actually a devastating deposition that had consequences not just for the case, but also for the future of his companies.
Just before the deposition started, Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch were actually going to remerge his companies. Fox Corporation and News Corp. were in the process of being remerged. That was something they were undertaking. A few days after his deposition, because it was so disastrous, they could no longer make the case to the shareholders of News Corp. that it would be a viable sort of merger, and they actually had to scuttle those plans.
And what happened during the deposition, essentially, is that Rupert Murdoch undermined Fox’s defense. One of Fox’s defenses was claiming that the Fox hosts were not advancing and making the claims themselves, they were not promoting them; they were simply giving — they were simply covering the claims that other people were making. And during his deposition, Rupert Murdoch had repeatedly acknowledged, actually, the Fox hosts were promoting these claims. The Fox hosts were endorsing them. That was his word. That totally eliminated one of Fox’s most major defenses. And there was a lot of other stuff during the deposition, as well, but, in part, it really undermined the case.
So, from a legal perspective, there’s real value in trying to make the argument in subsequent depositions that, well, he’s not in charge anymore, so you might be able to get discovery, but you shouldn’t treat him the way you would treat an active decision maker. I think that’s going to be a tough argument for them to make, but it does give them an additional leg to stand on, and I think that’s a part of it.
I also think the other part of it is that, you know, things are not great at Fox right now. They’ve suffered about a 30% loss in their audience ever since Tucker Carlson left. That audience hasn’t come back. They don’t have the same power and influence that they had. In effect, it’s not as fun. You know, Fox and his media properties are as much about profit as they are about power. And as that power starts to wane and diminish, you sort of lose the incentive to sort of weather all the other slings and arrows that go with running this corporation.
So, I think those are the two pieces that sort of led to this motivation. And it also makes it clear that because it’s going to be a tumultuous period, having just one decision maker that can be pointed to, I think, makes it easier for that person to navigate sort of the terrain. And obviously, that’s a reflection of his leadership. He wanted to signal that Lachlan is going to be the one weathering the storms for the year ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: It might surprise many to hear that Rupert Murdoch hates Donald Trump, given the role of Fox when it comes to Trump’s run for the presidency, both before and now. Explain what that relationship is all about, Angelo.
ANGELO CARUSONE: You know, Rupert Murdoch has always thought Trump was just sort of a creature of tabloids and not somebody that should be taken seriously, that was full of bluster, that was unpredictable and volatile. That’s a thing that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t like — right? — is volatility. And obviously there’s some other parts of it.
But one of the things that Fox News did is they sort of built the demand amongst the Republican base for the types of claims that Trump then echoed and that made him popular. Fox News made Trump acceptable to the Republican Party. And Fox News introduced a lot of the lies that Trump then parroted during the 2016 election. So, one, Rupert Murdoch had a hand in making the Republican Party more extreme. And then, on top of that, as Trump started to — you know, when there was that first tussle during the 2016 primaries, where Trump started to criticize Fox for not being supportive of him enough, Trump won that fight. He was able to leapfrog Fox News, speak directly to the Fox News audience and get the Fox News audience to kind of pressure Fox to be more supportive and sympathetic to [him].
So, ever since then, there’s always been this weird tension, where Rupert Murdoch accepted that even if he didn’t really like him, he could use him. So, in the early days of the Trump administration, Rupert Murdoch spoke to him regularly. In fact, he was trying to pressure Trump into getting at the time CNN’s parent company to force a spinoff of CNN so that he could make another run at trying to buy it. He was trying to leverage the power of the presidency in order to sort of further advantage his political and his business interests. It’s something that Rupert Murdoch always wants. He does this all across the world, by the way. He uses his media properties to sort of identify political people that he could put into the positions as the heads of government, because that then gives him influence, and he can get a return on the investment. So, there’s always been this tension. There’s always been this tension there.
And I think during the — in the wake of what we’ve seen with Dominion, it’s true — and some of this came out during the intro — that, ultimately, Rupert Murdoch blames Donald Trump for the position that Fox was in. And he’s wrong about that. It was an active decision by Fox to amplify and help build the case that the election was stolen, based on these fabrications and lies.
But he’s right about one thing: Fox was stuck between a rock and a hard place. They would experience blowback from their audience if they didn’t do more to advance and tout those election lies. Part of that is because of Trump, but the main part of that is because Fox News built these appetites amongst a very large part of our country in their audience that they didn’t really have a choice but to continue to feed those appetites with these lies.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo Carusone, Media Matters has a piece, “Lachlan Murdoch’s succession leaves him alone at the helm of a global empire. Here’s why that’s troubling.” Explain his politics and his brother’s politics, James Murdoch.
ANGELO CARUSONE: I think the two biggest — you know, there’s this idea that somehow James Murdoch is a liberal. He’s not a liberal. Lachlan Murdoch is certainly not a liberal. Lachlan Murdoch is much more of a reflection of his father’s politics.
But they differ on a few major things. One is that James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch differ on climate change. James Murdoch believes that climate change is going to destroy the world, and it requires a response and action, and that as media properties, that you have an obligation to tell the truth about climate change. Lachlan Murdoch does not believe that. He believes that the climate threat is overhyped and that it is an effort by liberals and elites to exercise control over the general public. And that is a major difference.
The other difference is that Lachlan Murdoch wasn’t just — whether or not he believed the lies about the election, he was tolerant of them. And, in fact, he helped — he actively helped spread misinformation during the 2020 election by calling in to producers and saying, “Hey, that host is not giving enough credence to these attacks on the election. You better get them to change their coverage in real time.” He had an active hand in shifting Fox’s direction around that. James Murdoch would argue that that’s bad, that’s destructive, you shouldn’t be doing that.
And, you know, they had other differences around politics. So, during Black Lives Matter, for example, James Murdoch thought that there did need to be more discussion around a racial reckoning, whereas Lachlan Murdoch was more in the Tucker Carlson camp. He sort of softly endorsed white genocide, the notion that white culture is being systematically destroyed and eliminated by elites.
And so, there are some differences. But at its core, Lachlan Murdoch is much more of a conservative, and his worldview, though, is a bit more brutal than his dad’s. His dad, at his core, is still a believer in building things. You know, these things are instruments of deceit and power and profit, but he still — he built, he created news companies and properties and media properties and media outlets. There’s a sentimentality that Rupert Murdoch brought to the table, that I think, at minimum, grounded how far he was willing to go, because at his core, he was trying to create businesses. Lachlan Murdoch, in effect, is a bit more of a nihilist. And that means that there’s not much of a core there that will tether him. If it serves a short-term interest, he will engage in it. And he doesn’t really bring a sentimentality to the businesses that his father did. And what that does mean is that they’ll burn brighter and hotter.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo, The New York Times reported James Murdoch has raised the possibility he would seek to rally his two sisters to vote with him to wrest control of the company away —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — from Lachlan after their father’s death. It used to be people talked about if Rupert Murdoch dies, right? Or, rather —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — when Rupert Murdoch dies, but it changed to “if” he ever dies.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Right, right, yeah. I mean, that’s a real thing, by the way. I mean, the way the companies are structured, they’re owned by a trust. And the trust, Rupert Murdoch exercises total control over the trust while he’s alive. But when he dies, each of his children get an equal vote, and there are four of them. And so, really, just James has to rally his siblings, and Lachlan wouldn’t be in control anymore.
That’s an important thing to consider for what it means for Lachlan’s tenure. What it does mean is that he doesn’t have a long runway. If you’re Lachlan Murdoch and you’re in control and you have the reins and you have this massive set of properties and all of these resources to make investments, you know that your time is limited and that the clock is ticking. And so, it’s in his interest to make as many moves as he wants as fast as possible, so that he has a chance to do them, because he does know that right around the bend, James is going to try to wrestle control of the company away from him.
So, this succession battle is actually not over. We’re basically in the semifinals right now, and when Rupert Murdoch passes, there will be an additional succession battle. I think what Lachlan is hoping is that he can readjust or maneuver the company in a way that somehow he’s able to insulate himself from a succession battle or spin off the things that are most important to him. There was some talk a while ago about spinning off Fox and buying it through a separate company. So, there’s a lot of maneuvers that remain to be seen.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me —
ANGELO CARUSONE: And that’s a reality.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap, when you look at News of the World, one of the oldest tabloids in Britain, it closed — Murdoch closed it almost overnight, after it was just —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — awash in scandal. You have Michael Wolff, who just wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch, who told Vanity Fair, speaking about Fox, “I think it will cease to exist in the present form.” Do you see that possibly happening? I mean, could Fox be sold off, what, to someone like Elon Musk? Right? He’ll drop F-O; it will just be X.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah, I do think that Fox News, in its current form, will no longer exist. And we’re starting to see that happen, most recently with the first Republican debate. Typically, Fox is the sole media partner, and yet they didn’t have streaming rights to it this time. They shared that with an online sort of YouTube alternative called Rumble that the RNC sanctioned. That would have been unheard of in previous elections, because there wasn’t a counterbalance to Fox. For the last 25 years, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh were the center of gravity amongst the massive right-wing media echo chamber. They were the conductor for this chorus. And right now the right-wing media is a chorus without a conductor. They don’t exert the same influence that they had. Their ratings are down. The business fundamentals are changing. And so, they don’t really have a plan for what happens on the other side of all these changes in consumption habits.
The one thing that isn’t going to change, and it really will just determine the speed at which Fox sort of declines, is what happens with these cable fights. About 70% of Fox’s revenue is actually up for grabs right now, because they’re trying to renew their contracts with all these cable companies. They’re trying to get massive increases in what cable companies pay them. If they’re successful at doing that, then Fox News will look and feel the same for at least the next six years. If they’re not as successful, then Fox will start to adjust and weaken even faster, because they won’t be a profitable company anymore, which would have never been conceivable even six months ago, that Fox would not be profitable.
So, I do agree that consumption habits, the changes in the landscape — and for the first time ever they’re not really sitting at the center of gravity. That could be worse for all of us, because it depends on who comes in. The right-wing landscape right now is bloodthirsty. But it also could mean that they never get another conductor. And a right-wing media only is powerful when it functions as an echo chamber. If it doesn’t have a conductor, then it’s just noise. And you can’t really operationalize noise. That’s been the real power of Fox, that it was able to operationalize that media apparatus and really create that echo, which you then could reverberate through the rest of the media, through culture, and leverage it for power and change.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo Carusone, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Media Matters, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.
Next up, President Biden has invited the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House after the two met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Critics say Biden is now embracing Israel’s apartheid system. Stay with us.
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