Has Donald Trump lost Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News founder and big boss who helped create the phenomena that put Trump into the White House?
Following this summer’s House select committee hearings regarding Jan. 6, punctuated for the moment by Thursday’s prime-time hearing, two of Murdoch’s signature media outlets wrote editorials criticizing and questioning Trump.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board had an editorial with the headline: “The President Who Stood Still on Jan. 6.”
The board wrote, “Mr. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he had a duty as Commander in Chief to protect the Capitol from a mob attacking it in his name. He refused. He didn’t call the military to send help. He didn’t call Mr. Pence to check on the safety of his loyal VP. Instead he fed the mob’s anger and let the riot play out. In the 18 months since, Mr. Trump has shown not an iota of regret.”
They added, “Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his.”
The Post went even further. About Jan. 6, the Post’s editorial board wrote, “His only focus was to find any means — damn the consequences — to block the peaceful transfer of power. There is no other explanation, just as there is no defense, for his refusal to stop the violence.”
Then they dropped the hammer: “It’s up to the Justice Department to decide if this is a crime. But as a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again.”
It’s hard to believe that either editorial board would have written that without Murdoch signing off on it. That certainly hints that Murdoch and his media empire are distancing themselves from Trump.
But before anyone starts patting Murdoch on the back, let’s wait and see what Murdoch’s most influential news outlet does. Let’s see how Fox News handles it.
While The Wall Street Journal and New York Post were slamming Trump, Fox News — especially its prime-time hosts — has yet to suggest Trump is not worthy of being president again. While all the major networks and cable news networks were airing last Thursday’s blockbuster hearing, Fox News went with its usual programming, and that included Tucker Carlson making fun of and completely downplaying the Jan. 6 hearings, saying “no one wants to watch it.”
Carlson also said on air, “If you’ve ever been in a TV control room, there’s a huge bank of monitors that shows everything that’s on TV. One of our producers just said that on every other channel, they’re playing some kind of Jan. 6 hearing. Jan. 6? As if that’s the biggest thing going on in America right now.”
Until Fox News starts going after Trump for, among many other things, his actions on Jan. 6, it would not be accurate to say Murdoch has abandoned Trump.
Interestingly, committee co-chair and Republican Liz Cheney did go on “Fox News Sunday” and point out that the Murdoch-owned Journal and Post blasted Trump.
Bret Baier’s comments
It should be noted that one Fox News on-air personality has been critical of Trump. Anchor Bret Baier, often considered the network’s most objective voice, appeared on Fox News’ “MediaBuzz” on Sunday. He talked about Trump’s role on Jan. 6 and told host Howard Kurtz, “… laying out all of these 187 minutes makes him look horrific. It really does. And it’s for everybody to see, and the president’s inaction and the vice president’s action getting on the phone is very telling.”
Baier wondered if the hearings will “move the needle” among many Republican voters. However, Baier did make this astute point when talking about many of the hearings’ witnesses: “All of these people who season testifying at one point or another wanted Trump to win. They served under his leadership. They wanted him to be a success.”
Jan. 6 hearings draw big TV numbers
Despite Carlson’s rather transparently fake what’s-the-big-deal stance on the hearings, they do appear to have been effective. And they have drawn the interest of the American people.
According to Nielsen, 17.7 million watched last Thursday’s prime-time hearing. That’s a significant TV number, and overall, the hearings reached tens of millions over the summer. About 20 million watched the first hearing back in early June.
Not only did people watch the hearings, they might have had some impact on Trump supporters.
Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and publisher of the conservative outlet The Bulwark, appeared on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN and said that focus groups of Trump supporters show they are less interested in wanting to see Trump run again in 2024.
“The main reason that they give is actually a pure political calculation,” Longwell said. “It is not that they don’t like Donald Trump. They still do. If he is the nominee, they will happily vote for him. But they are starting to worry that he can’t be elected again. He has too much baggage.”
Longwell admitted that the Jan. 6 hearing may have “seeped into” even Trump supporters to show that he could be a political liability.
According to Longwell, it’s not that many conservative voters are turned off by what Trump stands for; they are simply worried he cannot win and would rather put their support behind a so-called “America First” candidate such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. In other words, Trump the candidate is on shaky ground, but Trump the phenomena (or Trumpism) is strong — as can be seen by many of the Republican candidates running for office this fall, such as Herschel Walker and Doug Mastriano.
New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “While Ron DeSantis, his strongest potential rival, has been throwing himself in front of almost every issue that Republican primary voters care about, Trump has marinated in grievance, narrowed his inner circle, and continued to badger Republican officials about undoing the last election.”
According to FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich and Kaleigh Rogers, “At Least 120 Republican Nominees Deny The Results Of The 2020 Election.”
So it’s not as if people are turning their backs on Trump’s wild conspiracy theories about 2020. Rakich and Rogers write, “… out of 340 Republican nominees for Senate, House, governor, attorney general and secretary of state so far, 120 are full-blown election deniers (35 percent).”
Yet if Trump is losing support, some of it might be due to the Jan. 6 hearings. Douthat points to polls that show Trump behind DeSantis. He writes, “These early numbers don’t prove that Trump can be beaten. But they strongly suggest that if his case for 2024 is only that he was robbed in 2020, it won’t be enough to achieve a restoration.”
Douthat adds, “So to the extent that Trump is stuck litigating his own disgraceful conduct before and during the riot, a rival like DeSantis doesn’t need the lukewarm Trump supporter to believe everything the Jan. 6 committee reports. He just needs that supporter to regard Jan. 6 as an embarrassment and Trump’s behavior as feckless — while presenting himself as the candidate who can own the libs but also turn the page.”
The impact of the Jan. 6 hearings
How are the Jan. 6 hearings playing to the rest of the country? How are they playing to those who are not Trump supporters?
The headline on a Sunday editorial in the Los Angeles Times: “Trump should be charged for crimes against the United States.” The board wrote, “What’s needed now is not genteel deference to political norms but an unflinching pursuit of justice.”
The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board said the House committee “meticulously presented” the case against Trump and wrote, “At a minimum, the Department of Justice should prosecute him for conspiring to defraud the United States and conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the electoral vote count.”
It concluded with, “To restore the nation’s standing in the world, and among its citizens, it’s critical that the ringleader of this shameful chapter in history be held accountable as well. Prosecuting Trump will demonstrate that the bedrock principles of the United States remain firm: The voters decide who holds power, and no one is above the law.”
The latest column from The New York Times’ Charles M. Blow: “We Can’t Afford Not to Prosecute Trump.” Blow writes, “Can the country afford not to prosecute Trump? I believe the answer is no. He has learned from his failures and is now more dangerous than ever.”
Blow adds, “A Trump free of prosecution is a Trump free to rampage. Some could argue that prosecuting a former president would forever alter presidential politics. But I would counter that not prosecuting him threatens the collapse of the entire political ecosystem and therefore the country.”
The Associated Press has a good and complete roundup of the Jan. 6 hearings. And be sure to check out this piece from the AP’s Calvin Woodward and Eric Tucker: “Jan. 6 hearings traced an arc of ‘carnage’ wrought by Trump.”
And here are some strong comments from CNN’s S.E. Cupp, who said, “Trump knew the election was fair and still he tried everything he could to effectively rig it himself. He knew his supporters wanted to overturn the election and he knew some of them were armed. He knew all of this before his supporters breached the Capitol. And, despite knowing all of this, he chose not to stop them and not to say the election was over. The result? A country on the brink of a coup. Violence, vandalism and fatalities. Lives ruined. Hundreds of people charged with crimes. An electorate divided and untrusting of a system that unequivocally worked. A new breed of political candidate emboldened to follow in Trump’s footsteps, vowing to ignore election results they don’t like.”
Last Thursday’s hearings were the last for a while, but they are not over. Committee co-chair Liz Cheney said the committee will reconvene in September to consider more new evidence and testimony.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said, “The floodgates have opened. … So many more witnesses have come forward.”
Appearing on Sunday’s “State of the Union” on CNN, Cheney said the committee continues its attempt to speak to Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Cheney told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “The committee is engaged with her counsel. We certainly hope that she will agree to come in voluntarily, but the committee is fully prepared to contemplate a subpoena if she does not. I hope it doesn’t get to that.”
Thomas sent texts to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that appeared to ask Meadows to find reasons to overturn the 2020 election. In one text on Nov. 10, 2020, Thomas wrote, “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.” That’s just one example.
The war continues
Other stories have dominated the news cycle in recent weeks, but let’s not forget that a horrific war continues in Ukraine.
Be sure to check out this exceptional piece in The New York Times from Michael Schwirtz: “Last Stand at Azovstal: Inside the Siege That Shaped the Ukraine War.”
Here are a few other notable pieces of journalism regarding Ukraine-Russia:
- The New York Times’ Jane Arraf (with photos by Emile Ducke): “‘We Survived Another Night’: In Ruined Suburb, Solace in a Small Community.”
- For The Los Angeles Times, Laura King and Tracy Wilkinson with “Entering a sixth month of war, Ukraine faces thorny dilemmas.”
- The Washington Post’s Dana Hedgpeth with “A Virginia family’s push to give a Ukrainian orphan respite from war.”
- ProPublica’s Ziva Branstetter with “Richard Glossip Has Eaten Three Last Meals on Death Row. Years Later, the State Is Still Trying to Execute Him.”
- Derek Robertson with an interesting story for Politico Magazine: “The Barstool Bros’ Split Over Abortion Could Determine the Future of the GOP.”
- The Ringer’s A.A. Dowd with “Jordan Peele Exists in a Space of His Own.”
Lastly, check out this piece from my Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds: “Anatomy of a big investigative story in LA: 5 years later, a reporter and his editors remain violently at odds.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
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