For decades the Murdoch name has been synonymous with the type of monolithic conservative thinking broadcast and printed by the family’s media empire around the world. More recently, and in particular the Fox News brand, has likewise become synonymous with almost universal praise for Donald Trump. But recent comments given by James Murdoch, younger son of Rupert, point out that not all members of the family are necessarily ideologically aligned.
In an interview with the New Yorker, James Murdoch, formerly the CEO of 21st Century Fox before its recent merger with Disney, and now currently unemployed by the family business, levied subtle but pointed criticism at his father’s news network and the president.
He has seen signs of rising illiberalism and threats to democracy around the world led by authoritarian regimes using the tools of the digital age to spread disinformation, he said.
“The connective tissue of our society is being manipulated to make us fight with each other, making us the worst versions of ourselves,” he said.
Asked if that included Fox News, he demurred somewhat, but noted: “There are views I really disagree with on Fox.”
His foundation Quadrivium, which he established with his wife, Kathryn, who has worked on the Clinton Climate Initiative, has made part of its mission fighting the type of disinformation campaigns seen in recent years that have helped usher in fascist-leaning governments around the world. The group is also working on galvanizing voter turnout, something sure to work against the prospect of Trump’s re-election were it to prove successful.
A New York Times investigation earlier this year suggested Murdoch has long held ambivalent attitudes towards Fox News. The NYT said: “When Roger Ailes, the chief executive of Fox News, was ousted in 2016, amid a sexual harassment scandal, James wanted to revamp the network as a less partisan news outlet.”
Murdoch’s latest comments are, on the whole, a small fissure in the typically Trump-adoring Murdoch front, but given some of the recent criticism of the president from Fox News personalities, it may be a harbinger of shifting political winds in the family business.
Or it could just be the newly freed Murdoch son, who has dallied with centrist and Democratic causes before, reiterating his independence. Around the time of the protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 Murdoch criticized Trump’s comments praising neo-Nazis.
One thing it would be hard to say, given comments he gave about Pete Buttigieg – “It’s clear to anyone who hears him speak that he has an extraordinary mind,” he said – and his framing of the 2020 election as “a really crucial moment” for democratic values, is that his vision of a world fighting back against illiberalism includes Trump in it as president.