Rupert Murdoch's Post-Truth Nihilism
The only thing that will get you fired at Fox is telling the truth.
“Judicious study of discernible reality [is] … not the way the world really works anymore,” - Karl Rove.
The great and obvious flaw in the political right’s legitimate criticism of mainstream media bias is that the most dishonest, cynical, postmodern, post-truth, “everything-is-power” media enterprise is Fox News.
You only have to watch it for a few minutes to immediately grasp this, which is why most visitors from other democratic countries are shocked that it exists at all, when they see it.
But it’s rare to get real, actionable, behind-the-scenes proof of the deception, and thanks to the Dominion lawsuit, we have it. It will be important to watch the trial, of course, and see how Fox tries to counter the specific claims. But it seems indisputable to me that many Fox journalists absolutely knew they were peddling lies without any foundation, from top to bottom, and broadcast them anyway for the sole purpose of ratings and money.
It’s a pretty simple and old-as-time story of corruption. After their own election analysts called Arizona for Biden, the brass immediately understood that if they remained true to even the most cursory journalistic standards, their ratings and revenue would take a huge hit. And they did. So they dropped the last wisps of gauze from their nether regions — and went all in on lies. Soon enough, they fired the one man with integrity, Chris Stirewalt, who had called the election right. Of all the people to hold to account, they chose him.
This was far more than “reckless disregard for the truth.” It was a fully conscious dissemination of untruth. It was Walter Duranty-esque in its brazenness. It was not that they got carried away and believed their own stuff. They always knew it was garbage. Fox News president, Jay Wallace, remarked that “the North Koreans do a more nuanced show” than Fox Business did. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things,” Fox news exec Bill Sammon agreed. And he’d know.
And the topic they were lying about was not some minor culture-war controversy, or some genuinely vexing congeries of electoral glitches that could be aired out. It was the core foundation of democracy itself — the basic public legitimacy of our elections, the charge that the fraud was “massive” and comprehensive and that democracy was over. Rupert Murdoch decided to throw the full weight of his media empire to give this lie oxygen — and thereby helped foment an armed insurrection against the peaceful transfer of power.
And what is this man’s defense? It’s the Rumsfeld defense: “Stuff happens.” Put another way: what do I have to do with anything my own organization does? His deposition is a pathetic spectacle of a shell of a man refusing to take responsibility for anything. He speaks as an observer, not owner. He emailed Paul Ryan, another apparently impotent board member: “[Hannity had] been privately disgusted with Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers.” Why didn’t he do anything about it? “I delegate everything to her [Fox CEO Suzanne Scott].” Everything.
My favorite moment in the deposition comes when Murdoch is asked what should happen to Fox executives who knowingly pushed lies. His reply: they “should be reprimanded” or “maybe got rid of.” Violate the most basic rule of journalism, and maybe you could get fired. But of course, he was lying. The person he says was directly responsible, Suzanne Scott, still runs the joint. Of course she does.
Then the continuing bullshit: “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing [the election lie] in hindsight,” he says at one point. Well, what’s stopping you now, Rupert? Cat still got your tongue? Can’t get booked on your own network to say this? The rank pusillanimity and shamelessness of it all.
What was Murdoch’s motive in all this? Money. That’s it. Money. Murdoch’s value above all values. A man with something like $8 billion to his name in his nineties still needs more. Always more. He needs it so much he prioritized it over the most rudimentary requirements of ethical journalism and, yes, democratic citizenship. He fomented an attack on the very base of our system of government because he still believes he is not rich enough. And he is utterly candid about this. Asked why Fox continued to feature loony Mike Lindell on the air, “Murdoch testified that Lindell ‘pays us a lot of money’ in advertising. And when asked why Fox continues to give a platform to Lindell, Murdoch agreed that ‘it is not red or blue, it is green.’”
And if you ever believed that Tucker Carlson has retained any shred of interest in something called the truth — even after his pilgrimage to Hungary — check out his response to a moment when a Fox reporter accurately tweeted that there was no evidence of any shenanigans in the voting systems: “Please get her fired.” (The reporter’s tweet was deleted the next morning.) Even as he knew and believed that the Powell/Giuliani narrative was literal madness, he cared much more about ratings than the legitimacy of the democracy that makes his career possible. “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” he texted his producer at another point, because some of them had actually told the truth.
The usual counter to what seems to me an open-and-shut case of grotesque corruption is as follows: well, they all do it. Fox’s lies are no different than MSNBC’s or the NYT’s or NPR’s lies — and because most media are now captured by a faction of the far left, some response from the right on the same lines is appropriate.
To which I’d make three responses. First, of course two wrongs don’t make a right. You will never get ethical journalism by practicing unethical journalism, just as you will never get rid of racism by discriminating on the basis of race. Second, if this is your view, please be consistent and condemn Fox as well as the others (and you usually won’t). But third, I do honestly think that the corruption at Fox is different.
The left media lie by omission and framing and abuse of language. The framing, especially since 2019-2020, is rooted in neo-Marxist race, gender and queer theory: there is no such thing as objective reality outside a permanent system of identity-based oppression which is the core meaning of America. So the news begins with this core reality and prints facts only when they support the narrative, and uses new words with new meanings to keep the English language from letting reality seep in at the edges (e.g. “enhanced interrogation” not “torture”; “gender-affirming care for minors” not “sex changes for kids”; “equity” not equality; “queer” not gay).
It’s a total thought-system that will always spit out anything that contradicts it (and is now being embedded in AI). That is why, for instance, your eyes will blur at the number of times the NYT will remind you of the disproportionate number of young black males in prison for murder — and never, ever include the hugely disproportionate number of young black males who have actually committed murder.
What Fox did is different. They haven’t abandoned the tradition of objective fact in favor of moral narrative. They still privately believe in empirical reality; they will just happily trash it in public if they think it will lose them viewers and thereby money. The core principle is money. Not truth, money. Not ethics, money. Not even obeying the law. Money. Murdoch’s News Corp. knew full well that hacking people’s phones was a crime and the opposite of journalism — but they did it anyway for the money and lied, lied, lied their way through the fallout. Similarly, they knew the 2020 election was no more fraudulent than any other, but lied about it anyway — for the exact same reason: “green.”
Which corruption is worse? I’m conflicted, to be honest. Within these media behemoths, there are still many good writers and editors, fighting their way through the cross currents. Fox once did good reporting, and seemed to believe in it. The NYT’s owner can still defend journalism against leftist bullying, as he did this week. The corruption of ideology and money is not total. Murdoch owns several papers — the WSJ, for example — which retain high standards of accuracy and accountability. I wrote a column for Murdoch’s Sunday Times and never experienced any interference. But then there is Hannity/Carlson, a hill of deception Fox will die on.
There’s something creepily totalitarian about left media, because it really does reflect the power of the academic-media borg to destabilize our very language and a free society. The money incentive is something more brazenly corrupt — but familiar — on the right. But, in different ways, both betray the values that make liberal democracy possible. And we have to push, push back if we are to keep what’s left of it.
I remember Karl Rove’s insistence to me back in 2001 that deficits don’t matter because no one cares about them, as if we could remove fiscal reality with our feelings. Or that chilling moment in the Iraq War when some unnamed neocon hack told Ron Suskind: '“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Or what Donald Trump said to ABC News when asked, “Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?” “No,” Trump replied. “Not at all! Not at all — because many people feel the same way that I do.”
The irony, of course, is that the media — on both sides for different reasons — now agree with him. And it has made them rich.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my long chat with philosopher John Gray on the dusk of Western liberalism; noting the good news over Biden’s U-turns on crime and immigration; reader dissents over my latest column on Ukraine; more debate over feminism spurred by Jill Filipovic; readers sounding off on my TMI appearance on Bill Maher’s pod; five notable quotes from the week in news; an Yglesias Award for AOC; 21 pieces on Substack we recommend; a Mental Health Break of night photography, and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new, dusty challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a frequent Dish dissenter (who most recently wrote last week’s Dissent of the Week on trans issues):
Your opinions drive me nuts more often than not, but your remain the only blogger I keep coming back to and have been happy to pay for since day one of Dish subscriptions. I appreciate the mix of topics and the willingness to air opposing opinions, and I especially respect that the writing is usually free of spite or gloating — which feels rare in the political blogger/podcaster space. You (collectively with Chris!) have built a great newsletter here, and I’m happy to have been able to contribute in a small part here and there.
Biden’s U-Turns On Crime And Immigration
Finally, finally, President Biden is acknowledging reality on two core issues where the Democratic party has lost its bearings. He has recognized that the current asylum system makes a mockery of asylum, and that choosing a moment of soaring violent crime to lower penalties for it is nuts.
Read the rest of the post here, for paid subscribers.
New On The Dishcast: John Gray
John is a political philosopher. He retired from academia in 2007 as Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, and is now a regular contributor and lead reviewer at the New Statesman. His forthcoming book is The New Leviathans: Thoughts After Liberalism. I regard him as one of the great minds of our time, and this is one of my favorite pods ever.
For two clips of our convo — how smug liberalism led to Trump and Brexit, and why we shouldn’t treat religion as intellectual error — pop over to our YouTube page. Listen to the episode here. That link also takes you to commentary on last week’s talk with Aurelian Craiutu on political moderation, as well as followups on Filipovic’s appearance tackling abortion, motherhood and child custody. And a reader tries to help me breathe better.
Next week is Cathy Young to discuss Ukraine and what do to about CRT in public schools. If you missed last week’s transcript with Glenn Loury, it’s here for the reading.
We keep getting complimentary emails over Nicholas Wade’s appearance:
Why is the left so threatened by the lab leak theory? The “racism” argument doesn’t seem like enough to explain it — there has been very little racism in the discussion of the theory since Trump left office. Is this all just defensive posturing by a bunch of wannabe authoritarians who cannot handle the reality that two huge governments — the two most powerful governments on Earth — probably managed to combine their joint incompetence to kill millions? Is that it? Does the American left now sop for big governments everywhere, even so far as to actively shame those who would investigate a potential lab leak at a Chinese lab?
Browse the entire Dishcast archives for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety).
Dissents Of The Week: Stopping Putin Is The “Prudent” Path
A reader asks:
So when does US intervention become “prudent”? Russian troops in Poland? Estonia? Finland? We have allowed the current Russian regime to successfully annex the lands of its neighbors for over a decade — the full-scale invasion of Ukraine being only the most recent example.
The added bonus: for a very reasonable cost to us and our NATO allies (albeit at great cost to the Ukraine), we are dismantling the Russian military. It will likely take their military decades to recover, further protecting our NATO allies and others bordering Russia.
Read three other dissents here, along with my responses. We will air more next week, when I talk to dedicated war-supporter, Cathy Young, on the Dishcast. Thanks as always for the dissents — keep them coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was recently on Bill Maher’s pod — a total TMI fest. And I got pretty well stoned. You can watch the whole thing here, but it is not exactly me at my most professional:
A reader writes:
I laughed my ass off. As a gay man a generation younger than you — and raised Baptist — I was surprised how many experiences we had in common.
A female reader and “forever-long Bill fan” joins the TMI:
Would you please pass this message along: Bill, I hope someday you feel the intensity and co-mingling at the core of anal sex. It’s not for everyday, but I count myself lucky that I got crazy enough on several occasions to experience it. Maybe before your sex days are behind you, some woman will get you feeling wild enough to try. Advice? Slow and gentle, and always make eye contact (it can be done face-to-face.)
You know what? I won’t pass that along.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about 20 of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers topics such as our posture toward China, a cool new method of capturing carbon, and why liberal girls are the most depressed. Below is one example, followed by two new substacks:
The Pulitzers: “shiny talismans of shopworn narratives from Davos and the Hamptons.” Sounds about right.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Here’s a followup from the submitter of last week’s view:
Thanks for selecting my photo; it’s actually heartwarming to hear everyone’s memories or research or speculation about such a lovely area. While the town and the surrounding area is pricey, our vacations there are anything but. My German in-laws — never ones to spend more than absolutely necessary — have been visiting Haus #58 for well over 20 years (friends of theirs have a connection to the house going back 50+ years). It’s a very affordable rental whose owners balance the modern economic demands of the area with the multi-generational personal connections of all the renters.
The entire point of these trips is not to relax, but to hike. Every day. My three daughters have spent a week there each summer since they were born, and while early on they did attend a kids camp or bike around town, that didn’t stop some days of hour-long hikes in the Alps with a stroller, chasing cows:
One highlight last summer was a hike to witness the sun rise. This meant a 3AM departure (hiking right from Haus #58), reaching the summit 4000' later just as the sun was peaking over the horizon — brilliant:
See you next Friday.