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The news that Rupert Murdoch was stepping down as chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp. quickly triggered talk of his legacy, overshadowing one aspect of his announcement: Whether it comes to politics or to his companies’ media properties, he’s not going away.
In his announcement to employees, Murdoch insisted that he would be involved “every day in the contest of ideas,” while echoing some of the cancel-culture themes prevalent on Fox News and in the New York Post: “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”
The 92-year-old mogul added: “I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”
Murdoch may insist that he’s still planning to take part in the “contest of ideas,” but the media landscape that he helped create is changing. Fox News is still in first place among news networks, but it faces many other streaming and digital options on the right.
In the hours after the announcement, pundits weighed in on cable news and social media to talk about Murdoch’s legacy. On MSNBC, Mike Barnicle called Murdoch “one of the more significant [figures] of the 20th or 21st century when it comes to the media,” noting that he and Roger Ailes “changed the nature of the political landscape that we talk about every day, that we have talked about every two or three decades. … And I think when historians look back at how they’ve changed it, it won’t be positive look back, it will be a negative look back, because of all of the division and dissension that they injected by purpose into politics.”
CNN suggested that he could be “credited for influencing politics more than any other in the last decade,” while noting that it came at a cost, given the $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems in April over Fox News’s amplification of false election claims in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
The turning points in Murdoch’s U.S. news media influence came in 1976, when he first bought the New York Post, and then 20 years later, when he launched Fox News. The latter, with Ailes at the helm, eventually overtook cable news pioneer CNN and with its conservative and even far-right opinion hosts, swayed the base, helped set the terms of the political agenda and at times proved to be a kingmaker. Murdoch himself began to be caricatured as the all-powerful media mogul in movies and TV shows, which is why news of his retirement quickly elicited comparisons to HBO’s Succession.
A number of figures also weighed in with what they see as the negative impact of Murdoch’s legacy and his defiant swipe at the “rarefied class” and other news media.
“If you’re one of the richest men in the entire world and the head of a media empire that has impacted the course of global events, you don’t get to sneer at other people as ‘elites,’” wrote Kevin Kruse, a historian and author.
Yet Murdoch’s message, with its expressed disdain for “elites,” the notion that voices on the right are being silenced and that other mainstream media are aligned with the contemptuous political class, remains a winning formula for Fox News. Its biggest challenge is not with other major news networks CNN and MSNBC but other rivals from the right, whether it be Newsmax or the flood of digital properties and brands, including The Daily Wire. That was apparent from the revelations from the Dominion case, which showed the scramble and alarm among Fox News executives and hosts in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, as a Donald Trump-fueled backlash saw viewership drop in favor of Newsmax and One America News Network.
Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy even weighed in on Murdoch’s announcement, suggesting that his outlet was part of his legacy. “Newsmax has benefitted from his contributions, and we will continue his efforts to promote a free press, a cornerstone to a free society.”
Murdoch met his match with Donald Trump, who from the start of his presidential campaign in 2015 worried little about bashing the network that helped elevate him through regular appearances on Fox & Friends. In one of his final tweets before signing off from the platform in March 2016: Murdoch wrote, “Trump blames me for WSJ poll, fights FoxNews. Time to calm down. If I running anti-Trump conspiracy then doing lousy job!”
Trump’s attacks continue to this day. He has called Murdoch a “globalist,” as the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has ran critical editorials and highlighted the candidacies of rivals including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Despite Fox News executives and personalities urging him to do so, Trump skipped the first Republican debate and even counterprogrammed with an interview with Tucker Carlson, the figure dropped by Fox last spring. The debate still drew a very healthy 12.8 million total viewers.
The former president still was complaining about Fox News on Thursday but has yet to weigh in on Murdoch’s retirement.