The Problem at Fox News Is Not Just Tucker Carlson — It’s the Murdochs Who Own the Network

The Intercept
July 10, 2019

Yes, let’s get furious once again at Tucker Carlson, who has broadcast another segment of racist bilge at Fox News. But let’s not stop there.

In a widely circulated clip that’s getting justifiably walloped by journalists who are not admirers of white nationalism, Carlson describes Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia, as a danger to America and a reason the U.S. immigration system should be changed or shut down. Carlson has once again confirmed his standing as one of the most prominent racists at Fox News, alongside the unlikable likes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

What should be done about this? It’s absolutely correct to direct our anger at the terrible people we see on Fox and the terrible things they say, but they are not the worst culprits or the most powerful ones. Remember the Watergate-era saying, “follow the money”? Do that with Fox News and you’ll quickly realize that the people responsible for its hateful programming — the people who can shut it off in an instant but don’t because they approve of it or are too cowardly to take a stand against it — are Rupert Murdoch and his heirs, who founded and own a controlling stake in the network’s parent company.

Fox News was created in 1996 by Rupert, the Australia-born patriarch who has assembled a globe-spanning array of conservative media properties. Last year, the 88-year-old officially handed over day-to-day management of his empire to his eldest son, Lachlan. While Rupert remains the most powerful shareholder, his six children own significant stakes through a family trust he created; in all, the Murdoch Family Trust owns 39 percent of Fox Corp. Many of his children — not just Lachlan but also James and Elisabeth — have worked for their father in senior corporate positions and have held board seats.

The network does not bear the family’s name but make no mistake, Fox News is Murdoch News. Rupert is not a backseat driver of anything he owns — his power and interventions are legendary. Lachlan is a chip off this stubborn block; he’s now the chief executive of Fox Corp., and when Carlson got into hot water last year for another racist rant, Lachlan texted him a message of support. In addition to Lachlan, three of Rupert’s children — James, Elisabeth, and Prudence — have voting power in the family trust and none of them have ever voiced a public word of criticism against Fox News, the profits of which have helped make them billionaires. (Rupert has two younger children, with his ex-wife Wendi Deng, and while they have shares in the family trust, they do not have voting rights.)

The media has done a good job of pointing out the racism and xenophobia of Fox News in recent years, but most news outlets have come up lamentably short at connecting the dots and making clear to their readers and viewers that the Murdoch family is behind — and profiting from — the poison that’s broadcast by the network. For instance, the anti-Carlson stories written in the latest news cycle by Brian Stelter at CNN and Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, while excellent critiques of the Fox host, make no mention of the Murdochs.

Why isn’t this happening? There are lots of reasons. Even though Rupert Murdoch has on occasion made reactionary remarks, neither he nor any of his heirs have come close to the flagrant ideological entrepreneurship of, say, Steve Bannon, who engineered the rise of Breitbart News. Bannon exulted in his political infamy, whereas the Murdochs shy away from it (Lachlan, for instance, has said close to nothing about politics.) Although Breitbart has had far less impact than Fox, Bannon is banned from polite company, while the Murdochs continue to receive the red carpet treatment at Sun Valley and elsewhere. Another factor is that Rupert was glad to let his chief deputy at Fox, Roger Ailes, serve as the lightening rod for political criticism of the network (Ailes was forced out in 2016 due to his years of sexually harassing employees).

Yet the most important reason for their lack of attachment to the ills of Fox News is probably monetary. The Murdochs are billionaires many times over, and they have made much of their fortune from assets that are not named Fox News. Earlier this year, for instance, the family sold off much of its entertainment holdings, including 21st Century Fox, in a deal that created a new high for the family’s wealth of more than $19 billion, according to an estimate from Bloomberg. They benefit from the plutocrats advantage: If you make enough money, you can get away with almost anything, whether it is creating a private parking space in front of your New York City home, or avoiding decades in prison for raping girls.

It’s time to attach to the Murdochs the sick consequences of their wealth. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are symptoms of an underlying condition. You can’t hope to make a change unless you talk about the force that makes their hatred possible. It has a name: Murdoch.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.