New York CNN  — 

“Donald Trump Is Indicted in New York.”

That was the short but powerful headline on The New York Times’ scoop Thursday afternoon that surprised the former president, sent newsrooms into a flurry, and set into motion a historic and uncharted course for the country.

The unprecedented news sent convulsions through the media landscape, with outlets like CNN quickly shifting into breaking news mode and devoting hours of programming to wall-to-wall coverage on the major development.

But on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which had given the former president the cold shoulder since the January 6 attack, the network quickly pivoted into a stance reminiscent of years past: defending Trump at any cost and portraying the legal system as a deep-state, corrupt force in American society.

“Third world tactics.”

“Police state.”

“Political persecution and election interference.”

That’s just a tiny taste of some of the extreme rhetoric that aired Thursday night on Fox News, where Murdoch’s stable of right-wing hosts and commentators painted an ugly portrait of America, one in which supposedly George Soros-controlled prosecutors target conservatives in an unjust manner for the sole purpose of destroying opponents of the Democratic Party.

It came despite the relationship between Murdoch and Trump being on the rocks as of late.

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.

Trump bashed Murdoch earlier this month as a “MAGA Hating Globalist RINO” and accused him of “aiding & abetting the DESTRUCTION OF AMERICA.” And, recently revealed messages Murdoch sent in the aftermath of the 2020 election showed that the right-wing media mogul believed that Trump was a danger to the country.

And yet, Murdoch allowed the incendiary pro-Trump rhetoric to grip his network on Thursday night.

Watching Fox News felt like being taken back in time to another era. It was evocative of the days in which hosts like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson assailed Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and the impeachment trials.

If there was any doubt that Fox News might not offer a full-throated defense of Trump today, given the disgraced Republican’s shaky relationship with Murdoch, that has been erased.

And Fox News isn’t the only outlet in Murdoch’s empire rushing to defend Trump, the same person the news baron once viewed with such contempt that he declared should not even have his name mentioned on his network.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which is known to echo Murdoch’s personal views, published a piece calling Trump’s indictment a “sad day for the country.” The editorial suggested that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had carried out the action for political purposes.

“There is no doubt that Mr. Bragg is doing what most Democrats want,” The WSJ’s editorial board wrote. “They want Mr. Trump in the dock and at the center of the political debate. Even if he’s not convicted, they figure the indictment and spectacle will help him become the Republican nominee. They think he is the easiest candidate to beat because he motivates Democrats and divides Republicans and independents.”

The New York Post also appeared in Trump’s corner. The outlet’s website prominently featured a story saying Bragg “has a bad case of bias,” among other Trump-friendly articles.

I texted Murdoch on Thursday night asking how one could square his behind-the-scenes rhetoric, brought to light by Dominion Voting Systems’ case against Fox News, with the narrative his outlets were pushing. I didn’t get an answer.

But perhaps the messages released in the Dominion case, showing network leaders were terrified its audience would change the channel over its scrutiny of Trump, can offer us a good clue. He is almost certainly looking after his bottom line.

As Murdoch said, “Everything at stake here.”