A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
While Rupert Murdoch bumped shoulders with the New York elite at a glitzy 90th birthday party in Manhattan on Thursday, he was also coming under heightened scrutiny for enabling the most prominent personality in his media empire to use his platform to promote 1/6 trutherism.
CNN’s banner in Thursday’s 8pm hour read, “RUPERT MURDOCH IS LETTING HIS MEDIA EMPIRE SPREAD JANUARY 6 AND ELECTION CONSPIRACY THEORIES.” Over on MSNBC, Joy Reid pointed out that Murdoch is letting his top host, Tucker Carlson, “go full Infowars in prime time.”
Indeed, Carlson is going full Infowars. The far-right host announced Thursday that, not only is he debuting a special Fox Nation docuseries promoting 1/6 trutherism, but he is making it his “first ever week-long event” starting Monday. Carlson released a new trailer for the special week of programming that claimed he will expose “the lies” about the attack on the US Capitol. He hinted he will promote the notion that “other groups” were involved in the violence.
It’s all deranged stuff that belongs in a dark corner on the web. It really is indistinguishable from the type of material that fringe right-wing characters like Alex Jones and The Gateway Pundit serve up to their audiences. The only key difference, really, is that Carlson has a much larger audience, is far more influential within the GOP, and has a billionaire media mogul backing him.
Perhaps, as I asked Thursday, the billionaire media mogul is a 1/6 truther and election denier himself. That would explain why he is enabling Carlson to peddle conspiracy theories to the masses. It would also explain why he didn’t stop The Wall Street Journal from publishing Donald Trump’s lie-filled letter to the editor this week. I asked his spokesperson these very questions, but didn’t hear back.
The only other explanation is that Murdoch doesn’t care about the incalculable damage he’s doing. Maybe he just doesn’t care about millions of minds being warped by all the toxic lies his stars promote, so long he is able to profit off of it and throw glamorous parties where he can laugh it up with his powerful friends.
Neither are great options. That said, the latter is worse and also the much likelier of the two scenarios.
Business over ideology
Brian Lowry writes: “As someone who has watched him for decades, Murdoch’s pattern is that his business interests take precedence over his ideological ones. Fortunately for him, the two have largely advanced in lockstep, from his stewardship of newspaper tabloids to launching Fox News, and allowing Roger Ailes to shape its look and content. The excesses at Fox speak to a lot of things – including an unwillingness to exercise authority over top talent – but perhaps foremost, it’s where the Murdochs perceive the money to be in catering to their conservative audience, consequences be damned.”
“Where is the line for you and Fox?”
The dangerous rhetoric from Carlson is drawing a lot of scrutiny. Two GOP members of the 1/6 House committee spoke out against it on Thursday. Liz Cheney pointed out Fox is allowing Carlson to “spread the same type of lies that provoked violence on January 6.” And Adam Kinzinger said that Carlson “spews lies” and that his network is committed to “$$$ over truth.”
Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt is also speaking out, writing to Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch again about Carlson’s rhetoric. In his new letter, which you can read in full here, Greenblatt asks, “I have to ask: where is the line for you and Fox? How many more people need to die or how many individuals must subscribe to groundless conspiracies before you say enough is enough? Inflammatory rhetoric of this sort is neither legitimate political discourse nor spirited debate. It is dangerous rhetoric that could catalyze violence.”
Geraldo speaks out
While the vast majority of Fox is staying silent about the poison Carlson injects into the country, Geraldo Rivera is not. In a tweet, the Fox personality called the idea that the insurrection was a “false flag” operation “bulls**t.” And Rivera spoke out against Carlson in an interview with the New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum.
Rivera accurately said Carlson is promoting things that are “inflammatory and outrageous and uncorroborated.” He went on to say about January 6, “The record to me is pretty damn clear, that there was a riot that was incited and encouraged and unleashed by Donald Trump.” Rivera added of Carlson: “He’s my colleague. He’s my family. Sometimes you have to speak out about your family.”
>> On the topic of speaking out, one person who is noticeably silent: Paul Ryan. The former House speaker, who has in the past commented on January 6, hasn’t said a word about his paycheck now being earned, in part, via 1/6 trutherism. I checked in with a spokesperson for Fox Corp and asked if Ryan had a comment, but didn’t hear back.
WSJ knocks “media clerics”
While Fox as a company is choosing to stay silent about the criticism it is facing, Murdoch’s WSJ is taking a different approach. After being roundly criticized for publishing Trump’s letter pushing the Big Lie, the WSJ editorial board published a piece pushing back against the “media clerics” and saying “we trust our readers to make up their own minds about his statement. And we think it’s news when an ex-President who may run in 2024 wrote what he did, even if (or perhaps especially if) his claims are bananas.”
>> Amanda Carpenter’s question: “If Trump’s lies are ‘news’ why didn’t they let their reporters cover it rather than platform him with an open letter?”
>> BTW: Trump’s letter is still the most-read item in the Opinion section, more than 24 hours after it was published.
– Will Sommer reports that the writer of Carlson’s 1/6 conspiratorial docuseries “previously directed films made by far-right figures, including a leading promoter of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, a virulent anti-refugee activist, and an alt-right comic book writer.” (Daily Beast)
– Fox veteran Carl Cameron on “AC360” Thursday night: “It’s really frightening, and frankly, it’s a betrayal to the audience. It’s a betrayal to the public.” (CNN)
– Rep. Adam Schiff to Jeremy Barr: Fox airing Carlson’s craziness “demonstrates yet again a willingness to profit from tearing the country down.” (WaPo)
– Colby Hall writes that “someone at Fox News needs to be held accountable” for Carlson’s 1/6 trutherism. (Mediaite)
– About that party I referenced up top: Claire Atkinson says Mike Pompeo and Mike Bloomberg were among the attendees of Murdoch’s 90th bash in NYC. (Insider)