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Rupert Murdoch latest to join those repudiating Donald Trump

Murdoch has long pursued power rather than a specific ideology, was an informal adviser to Trump

Lily Katz | NYT 

Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump
For Better OR For Worse: A file photo of Rupert Murdoch (left) with Donald Trump after a golf session. A number of chief executives, including Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, rebuked the president for his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

At 5.55 pm on Thursday, sent an email to a list of blind-copied recipients offering a striking repudiation of President Trump and a pledge to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. He addressed the note to “friends,” stating in the first line that he was writing it in a “personal capacity, as a concerned citizen and a father.”

Yet for the son of the conservative Rupert Murdoch, who speaks regularly with Trump, it’s impossible to separate the personal, the political and the corporate.

James Murdoch’s message, which he wrote himself, was sent to a number of business associates from his company email address at 21st Century Fox, the global media conglomerate where he reigns as chief executive. And within two hours, it had been leaked to the news media, offering a window into the nuanced internal and external of the Murdoch media empire.

The email also raises questions about whether it is a harbinger of change at the Murdoch-controlled conservative-leaning media outlets — including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post — and the political direction of the company under a new generation of Murdoch leaders, James and his brother, Lachlan, the company’s executive chairman.

With the note, joined a number of other chief executives this week in rebuking the president for his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and denouncing racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis. Most chief executives released public statements in their roles as business leaders, although some invoked personal terms in their messages.

But Murdoch is not just any chief executive, and the company he runs, especially its cable news network, has enormous influence over the country’s and media.

Rupert Murdoch, 86, who has long pursued power rather than a specific ideology, has served as an informal adviser to Trump and repeatedly urged him to fire Stephen K Bannon, the chief strategist and nationalist who exited the White House on Friday.

At the same time, the Murdoch family controls both News Corporation, the owner of The Journal and The Post, as well as 21st Century Fox, home to a sprawling collection of movie studios and television networks. While there have been some cracks in the conservative wall, with the newspapers publishing more commentary critical of Trump, Fox News Corp is known as Trump’s preferred outlet.

That creates an uneasy balance for James Murdoch, 44, who is known to lean more toward the centre than his father, but rarely expresses political views publicly. A fiscal conservative, James and his progressive-minded wife, Kathryn, have long advocated for the environment and expressed embarrassment by certain elements of Fox News, associates have said. Kathryn Murdoch has expressed contempt for Trump on her feed.

The response from other users is often critical.

“Well Kathryn it would help if your family’s business #FoxNews wasn’t a synchophantic state media arm of the Trump regime #WednesdayWisdom,” one user said. “Some in your orbit have potential to alter the media ecosystem within which his parasitic organism self thrives,” said another.

Despite all that, the Murdoch sons have said repeatedly that they didn’t plan to significantly change the formula for Fox News, which fuels the company’s business. Analysts estimate that the division generated 25 per cent of 21st Century Fox’s operating income last year, which was $6.6 billion.

“He is trying to straddle a recognition that there are a lot of problems out there, and whether Fox News has contributed to them or not, the problems exist,” said Brian Wieser, a media analyst with Pivotal Research. “Even though James is technically the CEO, he’s somewhere between can’t and won’t do anything that would cause changes to Fox News. This is a tricky divide.”

Wieser, who has a buy rating on 21st Century Fox, said that the most common pushback he received from investors involves their concerns about the future of Fox News, calling a “liberal” who will “ruin Fox News,” he said. “James has to be mindful that the health of the overall enterprise is dependent on Fox News holding up,” Wieser said. Through a spokesman, the Murdochs declined to comment.

Since he assumed the role of chief executive of 21st Century Fox two years ago, and his brother have pushed to modernise the company. They introduced additional benefits, including more paid vacation, vastly enhanced reproductive coverage for women and “expanded coverage for our transgender colleagues.” And in January, they spoke out about President Trump’s travel ban, stating in a memo to employees that they “deeply value diversity and believe immigration is an essential part of America’s strength.”

© 2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Sun, August 20 2017. 00:55 IST
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