How Big Media Mogul Murdoch Steamrolled Little Tucker Carlson
Rupert Murdoch is 92 years old, and everyone just finished making fun of his brief engagement to conservative radio host Lesley Ann Smith, the ex-wife of California railroad heir John B. Huntington. The engagement lasted just two weeks. Murdoch has been married four times, the last time to Jerry Hall, model and ex-wife of Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger. That marriage lasted six years. Murdoch reportedly told Hall he was divorcing her in an email.
Murdoch’s marital history is particularly interesting when you consider his recent divorce from Fox host Tucker Carlson. That’s the way I think of Carlson’s departure from his seven-year career at Fox. When Rupert decides it’s over, it’s over. Here’s an excerpt from his email to his former wife: “Jerry, sadly I’ve decided to call an end to our marriage,” The Guardian reported. “We have certainly had some good times, but I have much to do.”
You get that? It was good while it lasted, six years with those cameras flashing at the world’s wealthiest media-mogul with his supermodel on his arm, but now he was finished. Moving on. Busy man.
You don’t want to get on the bad side of Rupert Murdoch. You don’t even want to be on his good side, because as his marriages and latest engagement prove, once he decides it’s time to pull the ripcord, you’re in the wind.
It’s been the same with his business empire. It’s easy to forget that Murdoch was once just an Australian newspaper owner with big eyes to get off that gigantic island-continent and make his way in the wider world. His first big move, way back in the 60’s, was to expand into Great Britain, buying the News of the World and The Sun. Next was New York City, where he established a beachhead in 1976 by buying New York magazine and The Village Voice in a hostile takeover. I wrote about that battle for the late-lamented New Times magazine, and I have to say that I watched slack-jawed as Murdoch steamrolled Clay Felker, the magazine genius who had created New York Magazine and then combined it with the downtown alternative paper I had worked for, the Voice. Murdoch charmed, threatened, and walked over or past the board of New York, getting one after another of them on his side until he was able to, in a single sweep of paperwork and investment banking magic, make Felker’s mini-empire his. The New York Post was next, followed by his purchase of the prestigious London broadsheet, The Times.
He became an American citizen in 1985 and set out on another buying spree, this time buying Twentieth Century Fox. He used the Fox brand to buy up a small television network, Metromedia, which he transformed into the Fox channel. In the early 90’s, the Fox channel began carrying original programing. Then he formed the British broadcasting company, BSkyB. In 1996, Murdoch started Fox News on cable, and in 2007, his holding company, News Corporation, bought The Wall Street Journal, which he had coveted since the days when he took over New York.
If you owned anything that published in print, made movies for the big screen, or broadcast shows on network or cable television, you were a target. Murdoch hit more than he missed. By last year, he was worth $21.7 billion and was the world’s 31st wealthiest man.
Fox News became a cash cow for the Murdoch empire, taking in about $12 billion a year in recent years. It’s money Murdoch earned by feeding a ravenous horde of conservative viewers a steady diet of right-wing red meat around the clock. Fox News long ago ceased being a real news network and simply went into the business of raw propaganda with its wink-and-a-nod motto, “Fair and Balanced.”
Tucker Carlson became one of the channel’s biggest revenue generators with his nightly spew of conspiracy theories, racist garbage like “the great replacement theory,” paeons to authoritarianism with his worship of Hungary’s Victor Orban – Carlson even took his show there for an entire week in 2021, and produced a rabidly antisemitic documentary on the country last year called Hungary vs. Soros: Fight for Civilization.
All of this was fine and dandy for Rupert Murdoch as long as Tucker kept the bucks coming. Carlson warmly embraced Trump’s Big Lie, beginning when Trump lost the election in 2020. The Big Lie was a feature of his show almost nightly for the next two-plus years. Carlson’s show featured many of the right-wing loons who made the allegations against Dominion Voting Systems that were defamatory – Rudolph Giuliani, Sidney Powell and many others. Tucker sat there and listened to them spew their lies night after night, nodding and giving his patented look of puzzled curiosity. But asking questions and looking puzzled wasn’t a defense when Dominion sued for defamation. That lawsuit ended up costing Murdoch a whole lot of money, $787.5 million to be exact, when Fox News settled the suit without a court fight last week.
There has been a ton of speculation about why Carlson was fired, much of it settling on emails written by Carlson that were revealed by the Dominion suit. Many of his emails were embarrassing to the network, and thus to Murdoch, as Carlson wrote repeatedly that he didn’t believe a word of the garbage he was putting out on his show about the Big Lie that Trump won the election.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that sources inside Fox say that Murdoch himself was upset by some of Carlson’s emails that were not released by the Dominion lawsuit because they didn’t bear on its defamation claim. These emails instead gave an insight into what Carlson thought about Fox management, according to the L.A. Times.
“Fox management” is one man: Rupert Murdoch. Carlson is said to have written some nasty stuff about lesser Fox figures such as CEO Suzanne Scott. Murdoch doesn’t care about Suzanne Scott. He doesn’t care if Tucker Carlson thinks Scott is incompetent or unlikable. What Rupert Murdoch cares about is being considered a Big Man Media Mogul and making money.
The Dominion lawsuit, much of it caused by the statements made on Carlson’s nightly show, brought Murdoch low in the eyes of his Big Man Media Mogul contemporaries, the guys – and they’re almost all guys – who show up every year at Herbert Allen’s Sun Valley Conference of media Big Men. It’s a kind of summer camp in the mountains of Idaho for media moguls, among whom Murdoch was arguably the biggest. Herbert Allen is the CEO of the investment bank, Allen & Company. Murdoch goes way back with Herbert Allen and his investment bank. He and his company handled Murdoch’s takeover of New York Magazine way back in 1976. Murdoch doesn’t like it when you do something that lowers him in the eyes of “Herbie” Allen, as he is called, or any of the other media Big Men.
And he especially doesn’t like it when he can put a name on a loss of $787.5 million. That name is Tucker Carlson, who thought that he was a Big Man because of the adoring hordes who watched his show every night and the millions he was paid for attracting them. But he wasn’t a Big Man. He was a worker bee in the sprawling Murdoch media empire, and now he’s a worker bee who got squashed by the Murdoch steamroller, as so many have been squashed before him.
Murdoch still owns the Fox empire. Tucker Carlson owns his trust fund check as an heir to Swanson Frozen Foods, however much he managed to put away when he was riding high in the 8 o’clock slot on Fox News, and whatever he can squeeze out of Fox in his so-called exit package. And he owns the stack of bills that are piling up from lawyers representing him in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Fox producer Abby Grossberg, because there is no doubt that in firing him, Rupert Murdoch severed Fox from Carlson in the Grossman lawsuit and is no longer paying his legal bills.
I often see businessmen like Murdoch referred to in the press as killers. But Murdoch isn’t a killer. He’s a taker. He sees something he thinks he wants, like a magazine or a newspaper or a studio or a network, and he takes it and then he takes all the money it brings in.
Murdoch paid the legal fees for his four ex-wives, but he wasn’t married to Tucker Carlson. Murdoch was once his employer, and he was happy to take the money Tucker earned for him, but he’s a busy man, and he moved on.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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