Will Murdoch Take Down Trump?
If the stunning midterm results bear any message for Republicans, it is that former President Donald Trump continues to poison their party's prospects, as he has done in every election following his fluke Electoral College victory six years ago. Nobody sees this more clearly than Rupert Murdoch, the party's would-be kingmaker, whose broadcast and print outlets immediately excoriated the former president in the election aftermath.
In classic New York Post style, Murdoch's flagship tabloid lampooned him on page one as "Trumpty Dumpty," with a suitably humiliating illustration and accompanying columns that blamed him for the midterm failure and urged him to forget about running for president again. The slightly stuffier Wall Street Journal editorial page described Trump as the midterm's "biggest loser," pinning on him the GOP defeats in 2018, 2020, 2021 and now 2022 and suggesting that maybe, finally, Republicans are "sick and tired of losing."
Meanwhile on Fox News Channel, the Murdoch network that once served as state TV for the Trump White House, post-election commentary on its former idol was so biting that he bit back on his tottering Truth Social platform. "For me, Fox News was always gone, even in 2015-16 when I began my journey," he wrote with typical dishonesty. "But now they're really gone."
As Erik Wemple noted in the Washington Post, we've watched this melodrama unfold more than once already, most recently last summer after the House Select Committee's devastating hearings, when the Post and the Journal both denounced Trump's derelict and criminal behavior during the Capitol insurrection he instigated. The media mogul has never liked Trump, whom he regards as an intellectual inferior and a business fraud. The problem, as Murdoch has learned, is that Trump's cult following can affect Fox's ratings by turning to its competitor Newsmax.
Despite his apparent enthusiasm for Ron DeSantis, Murdoch and his minions are most likely to crawl back when the Florida governor's appeal fizzles and the Trump train gains momentum. But what would Rupert do if he truly wanted to rid the Republican Party of that meddlesome mountebank -- and had the testicular fortitude to fight?
If he had the guts, he would act on the insight of those editorials about the Jan. 6 investigation and election denial more broadly, which rightly described Trump as unworthy of public trust. But he would go further, guiding his "news" properties as he does whenever he pursues a political vendetta. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, among many others, know exactly how that goes.
To put the stake in Trump, Murdoch could instruct his editors and producers to cease undermining and attacking the myriad investigations of the former president's alleged crimes -- and instead support those probes and start to publicize their ruinous revelations.
In his past feuds with political figures, the News Corp boss and those who do his bidding have never hesitated to fabricate or fib. This time, however, there is no need for any such journalistic malpractice. The Murdoch media could simply publish real journalism that accurately describes the current federal and state investigations of Trump and his associates -- and editorially support their logical culmination in indictments.
Murdoch is mean and reactionary, but he isn't stupid. He is undoubtedly aware that the Trump Organization has acted fraudulently for decades, as shown in the evidence compiled by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has heard Trump's taped conversation with Brad Raffensperger, attempting to bully the Georgia secretary of state into fixing the 2020 election for him by "finding 11,780 votes." He understands how the wider conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election worked, because several individuals who work for him were involved. He saw the photos of top-secret documents that Trump stole from the White House and took to Mar-a-Lago.
Knowing all that, the crusty old oligarch should dictate a course correction to all his obedient lackeys and get on board with the investigations. He would find himself in familiar company, from hardcore conservative Rep. Liz Cheney to Bill Kristol, the Never Trump neoconservative who edited the Weekly Standard magazine when Murdoch owned it.
Chances that this will actually happen are vanishingly small -- not because Murdoch doesn't want to take Trump down, or because of any principle he would hesitate to abandon. Does he have the guts to engage an adversary who can fight back? Or will he again turn tail when his profits are threatened?
America is watching, Rupert.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.