September 25, 2023

Rupert Murdoch isn’t completely going away.

The media mogul, now 92, announced last week that he is retiring and turning over the family business to his son, Lachlan.

But don’t expect Rupert to head out onto a yacht and watch the sun rise and set from whatever exotic location he chooses. It sounds as if Rupert will still be looking over Lachlan’s shoulder and, perhaps, whispering in his ear, continuing to have a major influence on his media conglomerate.

Murdoch’s retirement announcement, however, has given us a chance to reflect on the impact he has had on media and politics, not just here but across the world.

Through his tabloids and other newspapers, as well as his TV networks, and, in particular, Fox News, Murdoch has clearly influenced the divisiveness and anger that dominates our politics and attitudes and cable TV.

The New York Times’ James Poniewozik wrote, “Rupert Murdoch’s empire used passion and grievance as fuel and turned it into money and power.”

In addition, Murdoch, as much as anybody, was behind the rise of Donald Trump to — it’s still hard to believe — become president of the United States.

New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote, “Fox News gave Trump a regular platform for his racist lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace. It immersed its audience in a febrile fantasy world in which all mainstream sources of information are suspect, a precondition for Trump’s rise. (Many people have described losing loved ones to Fox’s all-consuming alternative reality.) After Trump lost in 2020, Fox helped spread the defeated president’s falsehoods about a stolen election, which both contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection and cost Fox nearly $800 million in its settlement with Dominion Voting Systems.”

Goldberg adds Murdoch’s legacy has been settled: “We are hurtling toward another government shutdown, egged on by (Fox News’ Sean) Hannity. The electorate that Fox helped shape, and the politicians it indulges, have made this country ungovernable. An unbound Trump may well become president again, bringing liberal democracy in America to a grotesque end. If so, it will be in large part Murdoch’s fault.”

A devastating cartoon

Click this link to see an editorial cartoon about Murdoch from Pulitzer Prize-winning Buffalo News cartoonist Adam Zyglis.

Psaki’s thoughts on Murdoch

Jen Psaki, during her MSNBC show on Sunday. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

On her Sunday MSNBC show, Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary under Joe Biden, had thoughts on Rupert Murdoch in the wake of his retirement announcement. Psaki said, “Even if he never sets foot in his office again, he removes himself entirely … he’s already created this right-wing media ecosystem that will keep functioning long after his departure, because over the years, Murdoch’s core objective has been to make Americans fearful of a constant shifting enemy, the other.”

Psaki added, “Fox News, as this right-wing media juggernaut, is so much bigger than just one person. We’ve seen this over and over. Bill O’Reilly came and went. Roger Ailes came and went. Tucker is gone. And now, Murdoch is stepping aside. But it’s hard to imagine that Fox’s strategy of pumping fear of the other into the homes of millions of Americans will change anytime soon. They couldn’t put that genie back in the bottle even if they wanted to.”

Monday, Monday

Speaking of Psaki, she has been a star hosting a Sunday show on MSNBC. She’s so good that she is now getting a weekly prime-time slot. Starting tonight, Psaki will host on MSNBC at 8 p.m. Eastern on Mondays. She will continue to host her Sunday noon Eastern show. Chris Hayes will continue to host the 8 p.m. show Tuesday through Friday.

On tonight’s first Monday show, Psaki will interview Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow and former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

Welker, week two

In her second show as permanent host of “Meet the Press,” NBC’s Kristen Welker questioned Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie regarding his public stance on Donald Trump. Christie has been highly critical of Trump during this election cycle, but was a supporter of Trump in 2016. Welker said some voters might get “whiplash” figuring out Christie and his thoughts on Trump.

Christie said, “Well, they shouldn’t feel like it, because I’ve explained it really well. First off, I supported him in 2016 because he was going to be the nominee, and I didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States. And I make no apologies for that. I still don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States. But I broke from the president very clearly, from President Trump, on election night 2020. When you stand before the American people behind the seal of the president, in the East Room of the White House, and say the election has been stolen when it wasn’t — and there’s no evidence to prove that it’s stolen now nearly three years later — that, to me, made it a disqualifying moment for Donald Trump. He’s continued to do that and worse since then. And so, listen, American elections are about who’s left to vote for, and I made the decisions I made then.”

Christie then added, “And Donald Trump left me; I didn’t leave him.”

Bret Baier’s big interviews

Fox News’ Bret Baier is having a bit of a moment. Last week, the network’s chief political anchor interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the heels of his interview with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was bin Salman’s first interview with a major American news outlet since 2019.

Baier asked bin Salman several tough questions, including his thoughts on the Sept. 11 attacks 22 years later. The crown prince also continued to deny any involvement in the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Most believe bin Salman either ordered or at least approved the assassination. He told Baier, “We tried to reform the security system to be sure that these kinds of mistakes don’t happen again.” He added, “It was a mistake. It was painful.” He also said “everyone involved” served jail time.

This isn’t to say bin Salman answered questions completely and truthfully, but at least Baier asked the right questions.

That’s debatable

Fox News’ Dana Perino, shown here in 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

There is another Republican presidential debate this week: Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern in California. It will be televised on Fox Business and Univision.

Fox News’ Dana Perino and Fox Business’ Stuart Varney will moderate.

In a feature in The New York Times by Jeremy W. Peters, Perino said the first debate — moderated by Fox News’ Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum — did not work out well for the candidates because they kept interrupting each other. Perino said, “The candidates made a decision to break the rules, and to talk over each other.”

Perino, who was a White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, tells Peters she will not hesitate to interrupt the candidates if they break the rules in this debate.

Peters wrote, “It will be the biggest moment for Ms. Perino at Fox News since she began co-hosting ‘The Five’ in 2011. Not known for being as provocative or partisan as many of her colleagues behind the desk, Ms. Perino, 51, has spent a good part of the last decade trying to thrive as a Bush Republican working for a network where loyalty to former President Donald J. Trump is often the ticket to high ratings and the career advancement that accompanies them.”

Like the first Republican debate last month, Trump is not expected to participate. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who participated in the first debate, might not qualify for this one. That would leave the following as participants in this debate: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

Wait, how much?

New York Times columnist David Brooks had quite the week last week. In an attempt to complain about the economy, Brooks took a photo of his meal at the Newark airport and posted it on X. The photo showed a burger, fries, a few packets of ketchup and what looked like a glass of alcohol. He wrote, “This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible.”

While Brooks never identified the restaurant, online detectives quickly figured out which one. Many, including PolitiFact’s Amy Sherman, pointed out that it’s highly unlikely that meal, based on Brooks’ photo, should have cost 78 bucks. The restaurant’s owner told Sherman that the burger and fries, before tax, is $17.76, and that a double shot of whiskey is $22. Add that up, factor in taxes and a 20% tip and the bill should come in at around $50.

Brooks was asked about it by PBS’s William Brangham on Friday. Brooks said he “screwed up.”

He said, “But the problem with the tweet, which I wrote so stupidly, was that it made it seem like I was oblivious to something that is blindingly obvious, that an upper-middle-class journalist having a bourbon at an airport is a lot different than a family living paycheck to paycheck.”

Brooks added, “And when I’m getting sticker shock, it’s like an inconvenience. When they’re getting sticker shock, it’s a disaster. And so I was insensitive. I screwed up. I should not have written that tweet. I probably should not write any tweets.”

However, the problem is that Brooks’ explanation about “sticker shock” and the economy still doesn’t address the claim that his meal cost $78. Something still seems missing or unexplained. Maybe he had more than one drink? Maybe he ordered something else?

The restaurant where Brooks ate — 1911 Smoke House Barbeque — posted this on Facebook: “Looks like someone was knocking back some serious drinks – Bar tab was almost 80% and he’s complaining about the cost of his meal  keep drinking buddy – we get paid off everything.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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