How Murdoch’s Media Empire Is Adjusting to Trump’s Defeat

From a New York Times story by Michael M. Grynbaum headlined “Trump Lost, But Empire of Murdoch Is Adapting”:

Presidents come and go. Rupert Murdoch remains.

For those who wondered how Mr. Murdoch, the octogenarian media magnate with a conservative streak, would react to the electoral defeat of President Trump, the past few days have brought a complicated answer, well-suited to the mercurial nature of Mr. Murdoch’s world.

The New York Post, the Murdoch tabloid that attacked Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter before the election, splashed a beaming Mr. Biden on its Sunday cover — “IT’S JOE TIME” — and described Mr. Trump as “downcast” and misguided in his efforts to claim the election was a fraud. . . .

The Wall Street Journal, which had rejected The Post’s attack on Hunter Biden, has dismissed Mr. Trump’s fraud claims, and its conservative opinion page is nudging the president toward a gracious concession. Fox News — home to “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends,” instigators and nurturers of Mr. Trump’s rise — refused to retract an election night projection of a Biden win in Arizona despite intense pressure from Mr. Trump’s aides, who reached Mr. Murdoch in England to plead their case.

And yet, just as a Murdoch-Trump divorce appeared to be underway, Fox News’s prime-time stars — who have operated more or less on their own since the exit of the network’s co-founder Roger Ailes — have embraced parts of Mr. Trump’s sully-the-results strategy, even knocking colleagues who have portrayed Mr. Biden, accurately, as the election’s victor. . . .

Efforts to understand Mr. Murdoch’s media universe are often compared to Kremlinology. But former and current associates of Mr. Murdoch said that his response to Mr. Trump’s loss could be summed up by another Cold War term: realpolitik.

“He will do as he has done in other cases, which is adapt to a new reality,” said one former consigliere, who like others interviewed for this article requested anonymity to speak candidly about a man who values discretion.

Mr. Murdoch, who has presided over newspapers and television networks for more than 50 years, knows that opportunity awaits no matter who is temporarily in power: Some of Fox News’s highest ratings and profits came during the Obama administration, when the network was a gathering spot for dismayed conservatives, the same phenomenon that fueled MSNBC’s success with liberals in the Trump age. . . .

Fox News reached new heights of influence in the Trump era — it was the highest rated network in all of prime-time television this past summer — but it’s easy to forget it was the No. 1 cable news channel long before the New York real estate developer rode an escalator to the political stage. Many Fox News employees believe the network’s ratings are likely to surge again as an anti-Biden audience seeks succor.

“They don’t tend to back losers,” one longtime Murdoch lieutenant observed of the family. . . .

Last week, Fox News was upfront with viewers about Mr. Trump’s poor chances, standing behind its Decision Desk call in Arizona and, on Saturday, trumpeting the network’s projection that Mr. Biden would be the 46th president.

But the recent hesitation of Senator Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory may have complicated the equation for the network’s opinion stars, who are loath to end up on the liberal side of the mainstream conservative line. . . .

On Monday, Mr. Hannity and Mr. Carlson stoked Mr. Trump’s shadowy narrative of a suspicious election. “The Washington swamp, Joe Biden, all desperate, they want to just call it a day and stop you from asking legitimate, tough questions about the election,” Mr. Hannity thundered to viewers.

The president seemed to approve: On Tuesday, he urged his Twitter followers to watch Mr. Hannity’s program, promising “Ballot Corruption will be exposed tonight.” It was his first positive reference to Fox News since Election Day.

Still, Mr. Hannity has left himself options: His criticism of Democrats and the “swamp” is a familiar line of Fox News attack that can be easily adapted to a Biden presidency. And Mr. Carlson stopped short of uttering what Mr. Trump would most like to hear: that he was the true victor last Tuesday.

“If, after all the questions have been answered, it becomes clear that Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the presidential election, we will accept that and will encourage others to accept it, too,” Mr. Carlson said. . . .

The prospect of Mr. Trump starting his own media platform as a competitor to Fox News is often cited as a reason for Rupert Murdoch to keep the president close. . . .

Michael M. Grynbaum is a media correspondent covering the intersection of business, culture and politics.

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