If You Work for Murdoch, It’s Time to Do Something
Fox Corp. is working to undermine democracy and get some of its viewers killed, both seemingly for partisan advantage. Don't stand by while they do.
Welcome to Second Rough Draft, a newsletter about journalism in our time, how it (especially its business) is evolving, and the challenges it faces.
Most weeks in this space, journalists—and the companies for which they work—are the good guys. This week will be an exception.
It has been no secret for decades that Rupert Murdoch’s companies have been a largely malevolent force in our society—divisive, stoking prejudices for profit; degrading, refusing to hew to professional standards or to admit error; rapacious, putting opportunities for political influence and profit ahead of integrity and the public interest.
When I was a senior executive at Dow Jones & Company, parent of the Wall Street Journal, in the late 1990s, we used to all tell ourselves that we needed to resist calls to auction the company to save it from the possibility of falling into the hands of Murdoch, who made no secret, including to us, that he was among those who wanted to buy it. In the event, a successor management and a weaker generation of ownership at Dow Jones in the next decade did just as we had feared and sold him the company for an outlandish price.
None of that is new. What is new this year are two things I thought I would never see even Murdoch stoop to—undermining democracy itself, and placing a possible advantage for his political tribe ahead of the lives and health of his audience. There can be no serious question that Fox News, the beating heart of the Murdoch empire, is currently doing both things.
Fox News tried briefly after January 6 to choose democracy, to call out the insurrection, to steer its audience to safer, saner ground. But ratings suffered, and, faced with the possibility of a loss of business, Murdoch and his minions were successfully bullied by Trump and his.
Even more remarkably, at least to me, has been to see the latest apparent calculation, that vaccination is generating enough positive feeling in the country and boost to the economy that it poses an unacceptable political threat, and needs to be undermined. So Murdoch gets vaccinated early on, and then uses the power of his most popular hosts to discourage others from doing so, presumably in the hope of winning the next election cycle, no matter the cost.
If you are a reader here, you probably knew all of this. So why am I rehearsing it? Because, I would submit, the time has come when good people need to refuse to be complicit in it.
What can they do?
If they work for Fox Corp.—Fox News, Fox Sports, Fox Business, local owned and operated Fox stations in 17 larger markets—I think they need to leave.
Maybe there are other meaningful steps that can be taken; I’m honestly not sure. But I do know that employees should not stand silent and sit passively when their employer is doing this much damage.
Standing up elsewhere
For people who work elsewhere in the bifurcated Murdoch empire, most notably at the Journal and HarperCollins (including its authors), I hope they can find ways to be public about their opposition to the Big Lie about the election results and about why it is in everyone’s interest for all of us to get vaccinated.
Why now? What has changed? As with the metaphor of the boiling frog, it is sometimes hard to see when a line has been crossed. I believe it has been, on both of these critical stories.
Journalism depends on democracy, and must not hesitate to defend it. Those who seek to excuse January 6, or to deny that the American people made a free and clear choice last November, are declared enemies of democracy. Trump is their leader, and he has already tried once to stage a coup d’etat. Anyone who thinks he won’t try again if he gets the chance isn’t paying attention. And Murdoch and Fox are trying to help. It really is that simple.
Fox Corp. employees: These are your colleagues.
With the virus, the situation may actually be worse. Here, while apparently protecting themselves and their own families, Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and those who facilitate them, are giving out messages that they know will leave many people who trust them to get sick, and some to die. (It’s true that in recent days lesser figures, like Steve Doocy and Bill Hemmer, have begun to distance themselves from the deathwishers, and Sean Hannity weighed in, albeit briefly and somewhat obliquely, but for Fox overall, this just amounts to bet-hedging.)
Again, Fox Corp. employees: Carlson and Ingraham are your colleagues.
Given the nature of pandemics, if Murdoch & Co.’s efforts to subvert vaccination slow the prevalence of immunity sufficiently, eventually a variant may arise that forces the renewed shutdown of the economy with all of the attendant suffering, and the deaths of thousands, perhaps millions more. Sure, in that case there would likely be a change in the fortunes of the governing political party. But what sort of human being thinks that would be worth it? What sort of company seeks such a result? If it is the company that issues your paycheck, what are you doing about it?