Mur­doch, Fox and an ag­ing GOP base

The Day - - OPINION - RICHARD COHEN The Wash­ing­ton Post

B ack in 1983, then-Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., was fix­ing eggs for her kids when she looked down and got an idea about Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan. She called him “Te­flon-coated” be­cause noth­ing bad stuck to him. The same could be said about Ru­pert Mur­doch. He’s the Te­flon mogul.

Ear­lier this year, the Fox News that he con­trols signed Bill O’Reilly to a $25 mil­lion-a-year con­tract even though the com­pany knew that O’Reilly had re­cently set­tled a sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim for $32 mil­lion. That tidy sum was just the lat­est of O’Reilly’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments, the grand to­tal be­ing about $45 mil­lion, which, un­til he re­vives his ca­reer, has to re­main some kind of record.

Not only was 21st Cen­tury Fox aware of the set­tle­ments, it even helped O’Reilly come up with some of the money and in­cluded, in the new con­tract, that he would be fired if new al­le­ga­tions arose. Not too long be­fore, Fox News forced out its pres­i­dent, Roger Ailes, who also, it turned out, was a se­rial ha­rasser. In sum, Mur­doch presided over a smarmy frat house where sex­ual ha­rass­ment was ram­pant and, for the long­est time and through her­culean ef­fort, the net­work man­aged to look away.

Some­what in the same vein, Mur­doch did not know that re­porters at one of his Bri­tish news­pa­pers, the News of the World, were hack­ing into the phones of var­i­ous news­wor­thy peo­ple. Mur­doch, a news­pa­per­man to his bones, ap­par­ently never won­dered where the scoops were com­ing from. One of the hacked phones be­longed to a mur­dered school girl. This was too much even for Fleet Street, but Mur­doch, three mon­keys in one, ap­par­ently never saw, heard or said any­thing.

Mur­doch’s life­long pas­sion has been news­pa­pers, but his real power base is Fox News. The net­work is to Repub­li­can con­ser­va­tives what The Daily Worker was to Amer­i­can com­mu­nists — the only trusted news source. With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of the way the once iso­la­tion­ist Chicago Tribune dom­i­nated the Midwest, there has never been any­thing like it. In the last pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, fully 40 per­cent of Trump vot­ers said their main source of news was Fox.

These fig­ures are not only bad news for Fox’s com­peti­tor, but they are also bad news for the Repub­li­can Party. Fox has been a force in con­vert­ing the party of Lin­coln into the party of Trump. The net­work’s al­le­giance to Trump ap­proaches mind­less ado­ra­tion. It once had the oc­ca­sional night­time skep­tic, no­tably Megyn Kelly, but she is gone. In her stead has come Laura In­gra­ham, who spoke for Trump at the con­ven­tion, and an even-more abra­sive Tucker Carl­son.

As for the dom­i­nant Sean Han­nity, he ap­par­ently so fears Bre­it­bart that he went soft on Alabama Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore, who is ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. (Even Trump with­held judg­ment.)

Moore has be­come the GOP’s lit­mus test. The re­fusal or hes­i­tancy to de­nounce him is a con­se­quence of where Mur­doch’s Fox has led the party. The GOP has gone so far to the right that it is about to veer off a cliff. The Fox au­di­ence is old, white and in a cane-stomp­ing rage at the way Amer­ica is go­ing. It be­lieves in the me­dia men­dac­ity that Trump pro­claims, and Fox in­ces­santly echoes. Aside from Fox, it will trust only sim­i­lar sources.

But look. Look, in fact, at Vir­ginia. In last Tues­day’s elec­tion, the re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump was be­yond ar­gu­ment. Non-whites went Demo­cratic in a big way. So did the more af­flu­ent sub­urbs, young peo­ple and women. What re­mains for the GOP is ru­ral, less ed­u­cated, less af­flu­ent and, to be char­i­ta­ble, less young. On the back of any en­ve­lope, it’s a bad busi­ness plan.

Ru­pert Mur­doch and Don­ald Trump have long been friends. Mur­doch has oc­ca­sional ac­cess to the Oval Of­fice, where he ad­vises Trump — the amoral lead­ing the im­moral. Trump is 71; Mur­doch is 86 and the me­dian age of a night­time Fox viewer is 68. Any­one can see where this is go­ing. The grim reaper has be­come a Demo­cratic poll watcher.

Ru­pert Mur­doch came to Amer­ica from Aus­tralia to ful­fill his gar­gan­tuan am­bi­tions. He bought New York mag­a­zine by de­ceiv­ing his friend, Clay Felker. He buck­led to China and booted the BBC from his Asian TV net­work. He has un­doubt­edly re­al­ized his am­bi­tions but will be re­mem­bered not for what he built, but for what he de­stroyed — Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal comity and a sen­si­ble Repub­li­can Party. No amount of Te­flon can change that.

What re­mains of the GOP is ru­ral, less ed­u­cated, less af­flu­ent and, to be char­i­ta­ble, less young. On the back of any en­ve­lope, it’s a bad busi­ness plan.

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