If the stunning midterm results bear any message for Republicans, it is that Donald Trump continues to poison their party’s prospects, as he has done in every election since his fluke Electoral College squeaker six years ago. Nobody sees Trump more clearly now than Rupert Murdoch, the party’s would-be kingmaker, whose media empire trained its artillery on him after the election fiasco.
In classic New York Post style, Murdoch’s flagship tabloid lampooned its former object of affection on page one as “Trumpty Dumpty,” with a suitably humiliating illustration and accompanying columns that blamed him for the midterm failure and urged him to forget about running for president again. On the same day, Murdoch’s upscale Wall Street Journal editorial page whacked Trump as the midterm’s “biggest loser,” pinning on him the GOP defeats in 2018, 2020, 2021, and now 2022-- and suggesting that maybe, finally, Republicans are “sick and tired of losing.”
Meanwhile, on Fox News Channel, the Murdoch network that once served as state TV for the Trump campaign and White House, the post-election commentary was so shocking to Trump—man bites dog--that he snapped back on his Truth Social platform. “For me, Fox News was always gone, even in 2015-16 when I began my journey,” he complained with typical dishonesty. “But now they’re really gone.”
As Erik Wemple noted in the Washington Post, we’ve watched this melodrama unfold more than once already, most recently last summer after the House Select Committee’s devastating hearings, when the Post and the Journal both denounced Trump’s incitement of the January 6 insurrection. The media mogul has never liked Trump, whom he regards as an intellectual inferior and a business fraud. But the problem, as Murdoch has learned, is that Trump’s mass cult following can affect Fox’s ratings by turning to its competitor Newsmax.
Despite his current apparent enthusiasm for flavor-of-the-month Ron DeSantis, Murdoch and his minions will of course crawl back if the Florida governor’s scant appeal fizzles away. But what would Rupert do if he had the testicular fortitude to rid the Republican Party of that meddlesome mountebank Trump?
If Rupert at all means what his publications now say, he must direct their fire as he does whenever he pursues a political vendetta. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, among many others, know exactly how that goes.
If Murdoch is serious and not just striking a frivolous pose, the test for him is clear. To put the stake in Trump, Murdoch must at once instruct his editors and producers, his writers and TV personalities, to desist from undermining the myriad investigations into the former president’s alleged crimes – and instead lend support to those probes and publicize their ruinous revelations.
In his past feuds with political figures, the News Corp boss (and those who do his bidding) have never hesitated to fabricate or fib. This time, however, there is no need for his trademark journalistic malpractice. The Murdoch media could do something completely new and different -- real journalism that accurately reports the current federal and state investigations of Trump and his associates, and editorially encourages prosecution to uphold the rule of law.
Murdoch is mean and reactionary, but he isn’t stupid. He is well aware that the Trump Organization has acted fraudulently for decades, as shown in the evidence compiled by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has heard Trump’s taped conversation with Brad Raffensperger, attempting to bully the Georgia secretary of state into fixing the 2020 election for him by “finding 11,780 votes.” Murdoch understands the wider conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, not least because individuals on Fox News were privy to the coup as it unfolded. He has seen the FBI photos of top-secret documents that Trump stole from the White House and took to Mar-a-Lago.
Knowing all that, the old press lord must dictate a course correction to his corps of obedient lackeys and get on board with the investigations. He would find himself in familiar company, from hardcore conservative Rep. Liz Cheney to Bill Kristol, the Never Trump neoconservative who edited the Weekly Standard magazine when Murdoch owned it.
Chances that this will actually happen are vanishingly small. But unless he backs the investigations that could haul Trump and his gang before the bar of justice, Murdoch’s current criticism will be exposed as cheap talk and nothing more.
Murdoch has now set the test for himself. Will he back down as he did after blasting Trump over the January 6 insurrection? Will he again prove to be a blowhard and a weakling? The whole world is watching, Rupert.