I have always been skeptical of the economic deterministic view that you can reduce all human motivation to money. People are complicated and are motivated by many things, including ego, fear, love, status, etc. Economic motives are certainly part of the equation but I’ve never bought the idea that you can always explain everything if you just “follow the money.”
Businesses, however, can usually be put in the “money is everything” category and many make the argument that that’s how it should be, fiduciary duty and all that. There are certain wealthy actors who are motivated by both ideology and money. These are people who use their power and their businesses to advance personal causes while also chasing a profit. The right-wingers among them (the majority of the bunch) have the felicitous advantage of their ideology working to their economic imperative so no doubt some of their alleged ideals are simply in service of that goal.
Over the years it’s been assumed that Rupert Murdoch has been one of those businessmen. He is the most influential right-wing media mogul in the world and has been closely associated with conservative politics and politicians across the globe. He promoted the right’s ideologies in his newspapers, magazines, publishing, television and more. His son Lachlan, who is preparing to take the reins of the organization, has been thought to be even more committed to the advancement of the right’s political projects than his father. And yes, they have been making a lot of money in the process.
But after reading the depositions of Murdoch, his son, the top executives and their most important stars, I think we can now say with some certainty if we want to understand the Rupert Murdoch media empire: It really is simply greed. They do not care about anything else.
The revelations in this Dominion lawsuit just keep coming and they are truly devastating to whatever tattered remains there might have been of Fox News’ status as a legitimate news network. The email exchanges in the court filings show that throughout the election and post-election period, the executive suite and the stars’ only real concern was about their ratings and their “brand,” which they saw as being threatened if their network reported the unassailable fact that Joe Biden had won the election. At the direction of Donald Trump, their audience was defecting to the D-list alternatives OANN and Newsmax which were all in on Trump’s Big Lie. Even today, the network persists in pushing other conspiracy theories on a daily basis in order to keep the audience they helped to program happy and engaged. Nothing else matters, certainly not journalistic credibility.
Murdoch bobbed and weaved in his depositions saying that he didn’t believe the election had been stolen and tut-tutted about his celebrity hosts failing to acknowledge the truth. But he also made it clear exactly what matters to him as the boss of this media company.
Fox News chief executive Scott had been wooing Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder, major advertiser and pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, according to Dominion’s filing. Scott sent Lindell a personal note and a gift while encouraging Fox shows to book him as a guest to “get ratings.”
On Jan. 26, Tucker Carlson had Lindell on his show. Rupert Murdoch told Dominion’s attorneys he could stop taking money for MyPillow ads, “[B]ut I’m not about to.”
According to the transcript, an attorney for Dominion then suggested, “It is not red or blue, it is green.” Murdoch agreed.
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On Thursday, Lachlan Murdoch attended a Morgan Stanley investor conference and gave a laughably fatuous comment:
“I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is actually not about the law, and it’s not about journalism, and it’s really about politics, right. And that’s unfortunately more reflective of this, this sort of polarized society that we live in today.”
“I think fundamentally what I have to say about it is that a news organization has an obligation, and it is an obligation, to report news fulsomely, wholesomely and without fear or favor. And that’s what Fox News has always done and what Fox News will always do.”
There is no word on whether anyone who heard this in real-time died of laughter but it’s reasonable to assume that they all exchanged a few chuckles at the very least. He had to be joking, right? If this case has proved one thing it’s that Fox is terrified of its audience and favors the GOP. That’s how they make their money and money is all that matters.
Meanwhile, their most popular host, Tucker Carlson, is also shown to be obsessed with the business ramifications of not going along with the Big Lie. He chastised Fox News reporters for telling the truth, complaining privately to his peers that it was hurting the stock price and damaging the company. If there was any doubt that Carlson’s schtick is nothing but an act to keep his viewers entertained, we can set it aside. He, too, is nothing but a phony greedhead selling hate and grievance to the audience he’s helped get addicted to it. Like any drug, it takes more and more to get them high, and that, in turn, brings in more and more profits to the one who supplies it.
This is a clarifying moment because it means that no one needs ever take their rhetoric at face value ever again. Just as we discovered that the conservative evangelical Christians who became Donald Trump’s most loyal followers actually had no morals or ethics, we now know for sure that the purveyors of Fox News have no real political philosophy or beliefs. It’s just a business to them and they are serving the customers of the market they made.
Knowing this doesn’t make any difference to the result which is that their creation — a delusional political faction — has taken over the Republican Party and now threatens American democracy. But it’s always best to understand what you are up against and we now know that the most powerful right-wing media institution in the world is nothing more than a family of hustlers and opportunists out to make a buck. Whatever they say about politics should be seen as nothing other than pandering for profits. That’s all it is.