Who will Rupert Murdoch exile from Fox Kingdom?
The Fox chairman faces a deepening scandal that threatens to cause considerable financial and reputational damage to the crown jewel of his media empire, Fox News, and the parent company he leads. The scandal brought to light by Dominion Voting Systems’ massive $1.6 billion lawsuit revealed damning information about the financially motivated right-wing talk channel’s willingness to lie to its audience.
Surprising misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks has raised questions about the future of embattled Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott. Will she fall victim to Murdoch? CNN was told that no immediate action has been taken. But it’s certainly possible — even possible — that Murdoch might cancel her in order to save himself and his legacy.
On Wednesday, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Semafor, who writes a Sunday night media column, said Murdoch was “definitely holding Suzanne Scott accountable for this.”
“They left a breadcrumb trail leading to her office,” added NPR media reporter and Murdoch biographer David Falkenflick.
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There is no shortage of evidence to support the claim that Scott is about to be axed. Most notably, Murdoch attempted to distance himself from Fox News’ decision-making during his testimony. Instead, he pointed to Scott: “I appointed Ms. Scott to run the job…I delegate everything to her,” he said. In doing so, Murdoch demonstrated that Scott was in charge of the network — and that if there was wrongdoing, the responsibility rested on her shoulders. Of course, astute media observers know that Murdoch is the real caller. But it’s not hard to see how the company will advance that narrative.
This is not the first time Murdoch has faced serious and embarrassing matters in his media empire. In 2011, his now-defunct News of the World was embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal. In 2016, Fox News founder Roger Ailes was accused of being embroiled in an explosive sexual harassment lawsuit. In 2017, star host Bill O’Reilly was embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal of his own.
In each case, Murdoch has made the decision to cut ties with top officials. As a source who has worked in Murdoch’s world put it Wednesday, “His model is to throw some money overboard and provide a head or two in the process to make it go away.” The special severance appears to be one of the easiest ousters to execute in Murdoch’s decades at the helm of one of the world’s largest media empires.
“Looking back at previous scandals, Murdoch and these companies tended to try to pay up front and let things go quietly, or they ignored them and thought they were too big to ride out,” Folkenflik said. “And then when things really come to a head, they try to cauterize the wound at the lowest possible level.”
“If he throws [Scott] It’s over, he’s only going to do it because he thinks he needs to cauterize the wound before it gets high,” added Folkenflik. “That’s his record. That’s what he does. It can be an editor. Can be an executive. It can be stars. He doesn’t throw himself aside. ”
Jim Rutenberg, a former New York Times media columnist who knows Murdoch extensively, echoed the sentiment.
“Murdoch has a history of sacrificing loyal lieutenants, but he only does so in the most extreme circumstances,” Ruttenberg said. “We know he hates doing it. We know he tends to fight for his loyalists, even for Ailes and of course for O’Reilly. But when there’s a real threat to his business that has to be overcome, he goes Do.”
Whether the situation has reached a boiling point is unclear. The Dominion lawsuit, which has already caused enormous reputational damage to the Fox News brand, is still in the pretrial stages of the case. High-profile executives and moderators such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity were called to the witness stand during the weeks-long trial, with no idea what to expect. It remains to be seen whether external forces such as a potential shareholder lawsuit will come into play and put more pressure on Murdoch to act.
In any case, it’s worth noting that Murdoch himself has signaled that a firing may be on the horizon. Asked during his testimony whether there should be consequences for Fox News executives who knowingly allowed “lies to be broadcast,” Murdoch replied in the affirmative: “They should be condemned,” he said. “They should be reprimanded and maybe fired.”
As Folkenflik said, “If you’re Rupert, you can’t fire Rupert. You can’t fire [Fox CEO] Lachlan [Murdoch] anyone. Then who are you going to kill? ”
“Everyone in senior management positions under Rupert Murdoch knew that was the way it was, that it was the ultimate job failure,” Folkenflik explained. “They understood it was part of the job. You’re paid well. It can be a bit of a glamorous life. If you’re out of the Sun King’s favor, or in his favour, that’s part of the equation.”
We’ll see what Scott’s fate ultimately looks like. For now, Fox has not publicly expressed her support. When I reached out to a Fox spokesperson for comment on Wednesday, the company declined.