Et Tu, Rupert?

Still more shocking revelations emerged from yesterday’s release of Rupert Murdoch’s testimony in the case that Dominion Voting Systems is mounting against his FOX News organization.  As Katie Robertson and Jeremy W. Peters reported in The New York Times:

Murdoch, chairman of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, acknowledged in a deposition that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump, and that he could have stopped them but didn’t, court documents released on Monday showed.

“They endorsed,” Mr. Murdoch said under oath in response to direct questions about the Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, according to a legal filing by Dominion Voting Systems. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” he added, while also disclosing that he was always dubious of Mr. Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.

Asked whether he doubted Mr. Trump, Mr. Murdoch responded: “Yes. I mean, we thought everything was on the up-and-up.” At the same time, he rejected the accusation that Fox News as a whole had endorsed the stolen election narrative. “Not Fox,” he said. “No. Not Fox.”

Commentators at rival networks and publications have been aghast and shocked at these revelations, some like LAST WEEK TONIGHT’s John Oliver, per Andi Ortiz of THE WRAP, offering that the bombshell texts revealed by Dominion Voting Systems really should make Fox News viewers feel “betrayed.”

Among the messages were ones that said things like “Sidney Powell is lying,” sent from Tucker Carlson to his producer Alex Pfeiffer on Nov. 16, less than two weeks after the election, and “Sidney Powell is a bit nuts. Sorry but she is,” sent from Laura Ingraham to Carlson and Sean Hannity the day before.

Wow, if I were a Fox Viewer, I’d feel pretty betrayed by that,” Oliver said. “This is like finding out that Big Bird regularly texts Elmo ‘F— them kids’ and Elmo agrees!”

Much as I can’t stop giggling at the thought of Big Bird using the f word, I’m not sure I feel a damn thing for those FOX News viewers.  They worship at the pulpit of this alternative personalized reality, showing up night after night for what they perceive to be “news” in the same manner that viewers of the FBI series show up fo what they perceive to be realistic crime solving.  I do, however, believe some of Rupert’s loyal executives and hired guns might feel a tad betrayed.  Because Rupert’s testimony clearly called out the accountability of many others, while all but shrugging off his own.  Even if, in some cases, they may have been a bit underinformed in how they carried out their duties.

As I’ve previously opined, for all the shocking inside baseball learnings Dominion’s discoveries have yielded, no one has yet provided any detail as to the question I’ve posed previously–did the EXACT SAME FOX News viewers who left the network after Election Night in November 2020 begin to watch Newsmax, or any more right-wing competitor, thus giving Lachlan Murdoch the level of insomnia and anxiety that was conveyed to FOX News CEO Suzanne Scott, who then rallied around the team of opinionated entertainers she was in charge of to put something on their air that would stop what she perceived to be the bleeding?

Scott has emerged from these testimonies as an enabler to the likes of Pirro, Dobbs and Bartiromo, and her own ascension to that title, as the eventual replacement for the deposed Roger Ailes and his misognyist team of loyalists accurately depicted in the movie BOMBSHELL should be put in context.  Hiring a female CEO to steady a ship that had capsized from the degree of damage Ailes’ culture had inflicted was as much a convenient way to satisfy bloodthirsty critics as it was an earned promotion for a loyal lieutenant of the Murdoch organization.  Many have compared her rise in the US to the one that Rebekah Brooks experienced in the UK, eventually rising to editor of NEWS OF THE WORLD and other British tabloids.  Remember her?  Here, let me refresh your memory, as BBC News recounted:

Allegations that News International journalists were involved in hacking people’s phones for information led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid in 2011 and a trial costing reportedly up to £100m.

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones and one-time chief executive Rebekah Brooks was cleared in what became known as the phone-hacking trial. Four other defendants were cleared along with Ms Brooks.

The scandal went to the heart of Downing Street. Among those in the dock at London’s Old Bailey for the eight-month trial were a close family friend of the prime minister and Coulson, David Cameron’s official spokesman.

Murdoch and Brooks publicly testified live on British television about their involvement in this scandal.  The newspaper was a sacrifical lamb, a moneymaker but hardly the crown jewel of Murdoch’s vast empire.  Brooks stepped down from her positions with News International at the time, but don’t you worry, she’s quietly returned to the fold as head of News UK and was, as The Observer reported last month, in line to take over the company if the proposed reunifcation of the News Corporation and FOX assets had occurred.  That’s on hold right now, as the Murdoch men late last month “determined that a combination is not optimal” at this time. (per CNBC).

Especially when at the very least a very large hunk of change will be given to Dominion to settle, or at worst to a lot of lawyers who will aggressively plead FOX’s contention that Dominion is simply selectively using snippets of information to conflate an issue surrounding the right for journalists to report.  All the more significant because Dominion’s defamation claims are ultimately aimed more at the former President and his team.

And, this, frankly, is where any possible fallout for any on-air FOX News personalities or guest election denialists who may have helped instigate the January 6th “capital tour” –let alone the executives who allowed them a megaphone to preach their “justifications”–should be seen as a distraction to the real culprits here.

Two rich, stubborn, determined former New York residetns who have been united in their symbiotic devotion to unapologetically finding ways for suckers to part with their money, time, or even sanity for decades.   Symbiotically using each other decades to fll their egos and bank accounts, with loyal children along for the ride as henchpeople.

Yes, DJT and KRM are birds of a feather, to an extent.  One’s a notch smarter and savvier than the other.  I never did work for the one who couldn’t–or wouldn’t–understand the difference between a national and local rating for a reality TV show.  But I did work for Murdoch.  And I can testify myself that he is occasionally capable of being corrected when his hunches are proven via facts to be incorrect.

When the original A CURRENT AFFAIR was emerging as a modest hit on FOX flagship WNYW, it regularly lost several ratings points from those that its lead-in, reruns of M*A*S*H,  which at the time was still one of the most popular syndicaed programs on  TV.  A CURRENT AFFAIR had replaced a second nightly episode of M*A*S*H, and was delivering significantly fewer viewers , which didn’t make my colleagues at 20th TV happy, nor were the folks at the station charged with maximizing revenue.  The Murdoch team, which included Rupert himself, were completely disinterested in our complaints.  Our charge was to build ACA into something just as high-rated.    At the first sign of upward progress, Murdoch concluded that the show was ready to become the second daily component of the then-nascent FOX network, and alerted FOX Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner to prepare to demand his stations follow WNYW’s dubious lead and use A CURRENT AFFAIR as a lead-in to prime time.  Despite the fact that more an overwhelming majority of those stations had no news or newsmagazine presence whatsover, limited promotional reach and resources, and deeper commitments to previously acquired programming that their management was less willing to write off than was Rupert.

Kellner had a close relationship with my boss, Michael Lambert, and along with a few of Lambert’s other lieutenants we were summoned to Kellner’s office, where we found the usually unflappable Kellner in distress.  We all agreed that a viewer of a sitcom rerun was less likely to watch what many called “the video New York Post”.  I offered that it probably wasn’t even as many as it may have appeared.  Some viewers were switching channels to watch ACA, and we were curious as to where they were coming from.   Kellner eagerly asked us to look further into that hypothesis, and I got right to work on it with my team.

To our surprise, we saw that the majority of the viewers who watched A CURRENT AFFAIR did indeed switch from other stations, and the majority of those also watched local news on other New York stations.  We concluded that not only would A CURRENT AFFAIR likely not succeed as a network show on a lineup of otherwise non-complimentary stations,  but it was far better suited for nightly syndication on stations that did have news, much like ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT was (and still is) succeeded on its lineup.

We prepared a detailed presentation for Murdoch that detailed these findings.  I provided a carefully rehearsed narrative that we believe he would fully and accurately comprehend.  He was silent but pensive.  But he listened.  He reversed course and allowed Lambert and his team to take it to market as we envisioned, and take the pressure of a nightly strip for FBC (as it was then known) off of a network that was still reeling from the failure of Joan Rivers to succeed in late night.  And A CURRENT AFFAIR ran for nine very successful and profitable years in syndication, and Jamie Kellner was then able to focus on that little animated segment of THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW that was showing some promise in qualitative testing.  I guess we all came away winners?.

That study, called “duplication”, was a valuable tool then and is still available today, despite the weaknesses of Nielsen.  I’m amazed that with all that’s been revealed from the texts and assumptions that went back and forth between Scott, both Murdochs, other key executives and those brilliant, stock-holding talents, absolutely nothing has even been hinted at that would suggest such an analysis, or anything of the kind, was looked at when the post-election panic set in.

Did Newsmax gain viewers who were watching other networks, or even not watching any televsion, when they starting airing their own take on election denialism?  That study’s just as easy to do.  Did the viewers who stopped watching FOX News actually go anywhere else, or did they not watch as much because, duh, some people watch more news before an election than after?  Was enough qualitative research with a stratified sample done to probe where and why people stop watching, or did Scott and her minions simply doomscroll after Lachlan woke them up with his insomniac worries about declining viewership?

I know I’ve asked that question before.  I know there’s an answer.  I’m not sure anyone involved in this situation wants to actually address it, especially if some underling DID do it and the results ignored because, let’s face it, it’s not easy to stand up to a billionaire owner even when facts prove you right.  I was fortunate enough to have both the facts and the support of people who believed in me to at least try.

I kinda hope Suzanne Scott is that kind of executive.  Or someone on her team is.

Because we know how things tend to go when businesses have some unforeseen financial losses and the ship that is navigating that business lane goes off course.  The captain is the one that eventually takes the fall, occasionally with some of the crew.  Not the one that built the boat.

Murdoch’s testimony laid full blame on others in his purview.  As Peters and Robertson reported, Rupert was a tad less remourseful:

Dominion’s filing casts Mr. Murdoch as a chairman who was both deeply engaged with his senior leadership about coverage of the election and operating at somewhat of a remove, unwilling to interfere. Asked by Dominion’s lawyer, Justin Nelson, whether he could have ordered Fox News to keep Trump lawyers like Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani off the air, Mr. Murdoch responded: “I could have. But I didn’t”.

If that sure doesn’t sound something like “PERFECT CALL!!!”, I don’t know what does.

Birds of a feather.

The data’s still there to answer these questions.  Some of us actually know where to look and what to follow up with.  Suzanne Scott, or someone on her team, can still look at it.  It might save a few people their jobs or careers, perhaps even her own.

Or. if history is any barometer, maybe she’s already another candidate to take over the company if (and, considering Rupert’s longevity, that’s a more appropriate qualifier than “when”) Rupert dies?

Dunno.  But I bet a bunch of us would like to find that out.

Until next time….



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