The slow learners at the New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages had a revelation on Friday. As if synchronized to sing the same tune at the same time by their owner, Rupert Murdoch, they cited the proceedings of the Jan. 6 Committee to conclude that Donald Trump had failed to uphold his oath to defend and protect the Constitution.
How could Murdoch, whose editorial pages and Fox News Channel defended Trump for the past six years, have suddenly turned on the former president so viciously? As I, the Jury’s detective Mike Hammer said to love interest Charlotte Manning when she asked the same question as he gut-shot her dead, “It was easy.”
Although Murdoch’s breakup dazed some members of the commentariat, it shouldn’t have. Murdoch has no friends. He has no loyalties. He has no principles. And never has. His support of politicians has always been transactional and extractive. Now entering the final days of his political career, Trump is expendable, making the Post’s and Journal’s twin discoveries in the same moment of Trump’s crimes against the Constitution a convenient cover story for the orange man. Murdoch has always been a political cad, swooning and then dumping his political partners when a better-looking one comes along. Murdoch’s next fling looks to be Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Fox News has slathered with positive attention in recent months.
It should be noted that Murdoch’s alliance with Trump was an unholy affair in which Fox, the Journal editorial page and the New York Post disregarded the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors in exchange for the mogul’s access to the White House. Trump wasn’t the genocidal tyrant’s first pick for president in 2016. In July 2015, when Murdoch still tweeted, he used the site to dis the future president: “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” When Fox refused to kiss Trump’s ring during the campaign, Trump boycotted the network’s primary debate. And as I’ve written before, Murdoch opposed Trump’s signature policies on immigrants, the Muslim ban and trade. Only after Trump clinched the nomination did Murdoch and his media empire become Trumpy.
Currently dissolving his fourth marriage to model Jerry Hall, the 91-year-old Murdoch is practiced in ending partnerships that no longer benefit him. In the United Kingdom, he has switched his editorial support back and forth between the Tories and Labour, depending on which party was willing to serve him better. He performs similar political puppetry in Australia.
The Murdoch-Trump union, never very stable in the first place, has been vectoring toward splitsville for some time. In early June, the New York Post rattled Trump’s cage with an editorial calling him “a prisoner of his own ego” and instructing him to concede the 2020 election. “Look forward!” the editorial urged. “The 2024 field is rich. You have Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley … the list goes on. All candidates who embrace conservative policies without the preoccupations of the Don.” Ten days later, Murdoch retainer Piers Morgan wrote a New York Post column explicitly urging Republicans to junk Donald for Ronald. Fox News has tilted ever so slightly against the Trump line in recent weeks, with news anchor Bret Baier acknowledging that the hearings made Trump “look horrific” and that Trump’s inaction was “very telling.” Trump has complained about Fox’s new posture, too. Today, he scorched Fox & Friends, his former home away from home, for “botching” his poll numbers. “That show has been terrible — gone to the ‘dark side,’” Trump posted on Truth Social. Even FoxNews.com recently posted a three-minute montage of Trump voters vowing to back a different horse — like DeSantis — in 2024.
In a June 22 Gettr post, Trump co-conniver Steve Bannon discerned the coming breakup, writing in broken English, “The Murdochs — Australians via England — not American, have never sacrificed anything for this Country — their entire media Empire has turned on Trump — Fox News, Wall Street Journal , New York Post , Times of London , The Sun etc etc etc——all lockstep against Trump.”
Bannon wasn’t exaggerating for once. Murdoch himself signaled the split last November when he blew Trump a big, wet goodbye kiss at his company’s annual shareholder meeting, which the Wall Street Journal excerpted. Said Murdoch, “The current American political debate is profound, whether about education or welfare or economic opportunity. It is crucial that conservatives play an active, forceful role in that debate, but that will not happen if President Trump stays focused on the past. The past is the past, and the country is now in a contest to define the future.”
Although it looks great in headlines, the Murdoch-Trump divorce isn’t the seismic event that some pretend it is. The two masters of demagoguery have had their differences over the years. In 2015, Murdoch was calling Trump a “phony” to his friends and a “fucking idiot,” according to Michael Wolff’s 2018 book Fire and Fury. These insults did not prevent Trump from using Murdoch or Murdoch from using Trump. If Trump runs for president in 2024 and buries the field, there will be plenty of time for Murdoch to do what he traditionally does: Place his bet on the leading pony. Like a pair of powerful gangsters who quarrel over how to divide the spoils, Murdoch and Trump will reconcile if they determine it’s in their mutual interests to reconcile.
How could they possibly do that? It would be easy.
Trump has always reminded me of the gangster played by Ronald Reagan in his last Hollywood film, The Killers (1964), a film noir masterpiece by Don Siegel. Murdoch? Citizen Kane, of course, which Trump calls his favorite movie. Send noir ideas to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts are accepting no new subscriptions. My Twitter feed doesn’t like film noir. My RSS feed wants to live in a world in which Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour gets the respect it deserves.