Emails reveal insides of Murdoch’s Fox
Paper trail shows he wanted Trump to stop talk about voter fraud
In late 2020, Rupert Murdoch was holed up in the English countryside with his now ex-wife, far from Fox News headquarters in Manhattan. The pandemic seclusion left him “bored,” he recently said in a deposition, with little to do “but write stupid emails.”
Those “stupid emails” now make up an extraordinary paper trail that has exposed the inner workings of Murdoch’s Fox media empire, revealing how he shapes coverage at his newspapers and cable networks and interacts with some of the most powerful figures in the Republican Party.
People who have worked with Murdoch said he never did much of his most important business over email. He preferred whenever possible to convey his wishes in person. But the pandemic changed that, leaving a trove of emails that lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems have used to build their $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News.
Fox Corp declined to comment for this article.
During his deposition in the case,
Murdoch said the journalist in him liked “to be involved” in news stories. He meant it. In the days after the 2020 presidential election, Murdoch’s emails show, he was especially interested in using the news organizations he owns — the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Fox News — to pressure President Donald Trump to stop talking about voter fraud. As Murdoch testified, he thought Trump looked like “a bad loser.”
On Nov. 7, 2020, just before Fox News and the other networks declared Joe Biden the president-elect, Murdoch posed a question over email to the editor of the Post, Col Allan.
“Should we say something Donald might see?” he asked in his typically terse style of emailing.
Murdoch has known Trump for three decades — long enough to refer to him by his first name. And he understood that Trump was a regular reader of the Post who would probably read an editorial about himself, even one that wasn’t entirely flattering.
The new emails and testimony show just how involved Murdoch was in writing and editing that editorial. He emailed with Allan about some ideas, including how to frame their argument in a positive way around Trump’s legacy while also urging him to dump Rudy Giuliani as his lawyer.
Neither man was a fan of Giuliani, a former New York City mayor. “I think booze has got him,” Allan told Murdoch. In his deposition, Murdoch testified that
Giuliani had been “a very good mayor of New York, but it has all been downhill since.”
When the draft was ready for Murdoch to see, he offered a few careful edits. “Few typos. eg ‘return to’ … not ‘retain to,’” he wrote, adding that he thought “dangerous” should be added to describe China. (The adjective was added.)
The editorial ran Nov. 7 under the headline “President Trump, your legacy is secure — stop the ‘stolen election’ rhetoric.” And it included the line “Get Rudy Giuliani off TV.”
But Murdoch wasn’t done offering advice to his executives as the president and his supporters began attacking Fox.
Those who have worked for Murdoch describe his approach in conveying his wishes as something of a light touch. He doesn’t dictate demands so much as suggest and imply through his observations. And the executives who tend to survive the longest understand what he is asking for.
On Nov. 9, as Trump accused Fox News of disloyalty for projecting that he would lose Arizona and the presidency, a sense of siege began to envelop the company. That day, Murdoch emailed the CEO of Fox News Media, Suzanne Scott. The subject line was one word: “Vaccine.”
“Huge story today. People will be hungry for every detail,” he wrote, referring to the breakthrough just reported by Pfizer and BioNTech: that their vaccine was 90 percent effective against the coronavirus.
“What if it happened two weeks earlier!?” Murdoch asked, apparently implying that Trump might have benefited from the news if it had been announced before the election.
Scott, who had been discussing with her senior team the need to do something to slow the defection of Fox viewers to more pro-Trump networks such as Newsmax, then told her boss that a “pivot” was underway. Dominion’s lawyers have argued that the shift in programming meant endorsing conspiracy theories about the company’s supposed involvement in a nonexistent plot to steal votes from Trump.
After the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Murdoch seemed ready to use his power as never before — to cleanse the party of Trump once and for all.
“We want to make Trump a non person. Fairly easy unless they charge him and he remains in the news,” Murdoch wrote to a friend Jan. 8, 2021, seeming to fully grasp the president’s ability to overtake a news cycle in or out of office.
He explained that Fox News was “busy pivoting,” adopting Scott’s language about how the network would reposition itself. “After a few days ignore Trump and quickly become the loyal opposition.”