Rupert Murdoch, whom I served for seven years, has many business and journalistic achievements. He owes himself a better legacy than a news channel that no reasonable person would believe.
It was my great honor to join Rupert, Barry Diller (who now is the chairman of IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company), Jamie Kellner and many others in the early days of Fox Broadcasting Company, the network that’s the home to The Simpsons and the NFL. I worked closely with Rupert and I found him to be brilliant, courageous, optimistic, and a gentleman. (Everything that follows regarding Fox News and Rupert Murdoch represents my opinion.)
I had first-hand exposure to all of those qualities as he defied all of the odds to build a fourth network—a network that an expensive government study in the 1980s had concluded was “not likely to be viable.” He ignored the ridicule from ABC, CBS, and NBC, whose president called us the “coat hanger network”—a reference to the loop antennas required to receive our weak UHF local affiliate stations. Rupert never lost his confidence or his optimism. He snatched the Sunday afternoon NFL games away from CBS. He recruited strong VHF local affiliate stations from all three of the old networks. And by 2005 he had built the most watched broadcast television network in America. Amazing!
Initially Fox News followed the standard Murdoch playbook: find a market in need of new competition, jump in with both feet and shake up the status quo. Clearly there was an opening for a responsible and truthful center-right news network. And that is how Fox News started. I played a cameo role in the birth of Fox News by accompanying Roger Ailes to meet with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to seek his help in persuading Time-Warner CEO Gerry Levin to carry Fox News on the all-important Time-Warner Cable systems in New York City. Levin did not want to provide “oxygen” for a new channel to compete with Time-Warner’s CNN. Ultimately Murdoch had to pay a massive “tribute” to cable operators to get Fox News added to their systems. But as always, he was confident—confident that his new channel would be a success and that he would get all the money back. And he did.
But, in recent years things have gone badly off the tracks at Fox News. Fox News is no longer a truthful center-right news network. The channel (especially the leading prime-time opinion programming) has contributed substantially and directly to:
- the unnecessary deaths of many Americans by disparaging the wearing of life-saving COVID masks;
- divisions in our society by stoking racial animus and fueling the totally false impression that Black Lives Matter and Antifa are engaged in nightly, life-threatening riots across the country;
- the unnecessary deaths of many Americans by fueling hesitation and doubt about the efficacy and safety of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines [Fox News provided me examples of pro-mask/vaccine on-air comments, but in my opinion, they were heavily outweighed by the negative comments of the highly rated primetime opinion hosts];
- former President Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen from him by providing a continuous platform for wild and false claims about the election—claims refuted by more than 60 judges, Republican State election officials, recounts in numerous States and Trump’s own Attorney General; and
- the Jan. 6, 2021, violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by continually promoting former President Trump’s “Stop The Steal” rally.
Fox News has caused many millions of Americans—most of them Republicans (as my wife and I were for 50 years)—to believe things that simply are not true. For example, Yahoo News reports that 73 percent of Republicans blame “left-wing protesters” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Of course, that is ludicrous. All one has to do is look at the pictures or videos of the attack to see that the violent mob was comprised of Trump supporters. Similarly, a poll by SSRS in late April found that two-thirds of Republicans either believe or suspect that the election was stolen from Trump—60 percent saying there is “hard evidence” that the election was stolen. As noted above, this ridiculous notion has been thoroughly refuted. But millions of Americans believe these falsehoods because they have been drilled into their minds, night after night, by Fox News.
The greatest irony is that I don’t believe that most of the falsehoods on Fox News reflect Rupert Murdoch’s own views. I believe that he thought that it was important to protect his own health by wearing a mask during the pandemic and he encouraged me to do the same. I believe that he thought that it was important to protect his own health by getting vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and he encouraged me to do the same. And I believe that he thinks that former President Trump is an egomaniac who lost the election by turning off voters, especially suburban women, with his behavior.
Over the past nine months I have tried, with increasing bluntness, to get Rupert to understand the real damage that Fox News is doing to America. I failed, and it was arrogant and naïve to ever have thought that I could succeed. I am at a loss to understand why he will not change course. I can only guess that the destructive editorial policy of Fox News is driven by a deep-seated vein of anti-establishment/contrarian thinking in Rupert that, at age 90, is not going to change.