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Rupert Murdoch's decision to step down as chairman of the Fox Corporation and News Corp ends an era that has upended American politics and defiled a once-proud Republican Party that I knew and loved—a reality that will probably endure for many years to come.
It would be wrong to blame Fox News for all of the anger that has come to define the GOP and America since the channel’s inception (there are numerous factors). But as I recently noted, only about 10 percent of Republicans held a “very negative” view of Democrats in the mid-1990s. Today, that number has risen to 62 percent. (Fox News went on the air in 1996.)
Count me among the conservatives who were initially cheering on the network’s arrival. As a fan of Rush Limbaugh’s radio and TV shows (executive producer Roger Ailes would go on to co-found Fox News and serve as its C.E.O.), I believed that liberal media bias was a serious problem, and that alternate outlets would help.
For one thing, the network constituted a red dot in a sea of otherwise blue media. An average person’s news diet might consist of their local newspaper, a morning show like Good Morning America, local TV news, Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather anchoring the nightly news, and maybe some CNN. Fox News, I hoped, would provide some semblance of a counterbalance to the liberal-leaning media.
For younger readers, it’s also worth noting that Fox News was better back then. (You might not think it was ever “good,” but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t at least “less bad.”)
Yes, Fox News has always been heavy on elevating its share of unqualified “bridge and tunnel” bullies (and/or highly attractive women). But it also featured some top-notch political analysts who gave the public a conservative-leaning perspective that was missing from much of mainstream media.
One of my favorite shows was Special Report, which, though still on the air, in its earlier days was kind of like a conservative Meet The Press. The program had hosts like Tony Snow, Brit Hume, and Bret Baier, and featured thoughtful conservative guests on its “all star” roundtable like Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and Steve Hayes. (Juxtapose that with today’s most popular Fox shows, like The Five, where bomb throwers hold sway and guests violently agree with one another—sometimes with one token liberal kept on set as a punching bag.)
Fox News had some good early ambitions. But fairly early on in its existence, the network pivoted far away from straight news and intelligent conservative commentary, and leaned heavily toward the loudmouths.
And after that, it went from promoting the bloviators to platforming the outright liars.
That was the moment the network completely jumped the shark and pivoted from presenting alternative viewpoints to presenting an alternate reality. This is Rupert Murdoch’s most meaningful political legacy—dutifully carrying water for Trump’s MAGA movement that banished real conservatism.
While I naively had hopes for the network in its earliest days, all I can see now is the obliteration of the movement that I thought would outlive me—one of limited government, robust foreign policy, and basic decency.
Instead of elevating conservatism, Murdoch helped undermine conservatism as a serious philosophy, skewing instead toward tabloid conspiracy theories like birtherism and “rigged” election allegations.
To be sure, almost everyone at Fox News knew it was BS to say Trump won in 2020, but they pushed the big lie because they were afraid of alienating their audience (whose brains they had helped groom for this moment, in the first place).
Perhaps Murdoch regretted this. On several occasions over the years, he signaled he wanted to back away from Trump. But he never had the courage to actually follow through on it. Even for a man as unfathomably rich and powerful as Rupert, he couldn’t control the monster he had helped create. Pathetically, he was also afraid of losing ground to little-seen right-wing networks like Newsmax and OANN.
I saw hints of Fox News’ dark side a few years before Trump came down that escalator.
During the early Barack Obama era, I was something of a regular, appearing on shows ranging from Fox & Friends to America’s Newsroom to Hannity. Eventually, though, I was blacklisted by the network after refusing to attack another cable network on their behalf.
Talk about cancel culture.
Still, I can’t complain. I continue to enjoy a good career in political commentary, and remain steadfast in my conservative principles. I never said anything I didn’t believe to please a corporate boss. Compared with what Fox News did to the rest of the country, I got off relatively easy.
The shame is that, for decades, serious conservatives worked hard to purge the cranks and build institutions that would elevate conservatism to the point where it had to be taken seriously. Think tanks were formed. Infrastructure was created. Serious magazines were launched (some of them, partially funded by Murdoch). Much work was accomplished.
If it is ironic that a thrice-married casino magnate from New York upended all of that, it is likewise ironic that an Australian-born tabloid magnate laid the groundwork for his hostile takeover.
To be sure, the ideas of conservative luminaries like Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk are hardly tainted by today’s right-wing populism, which bears little resemblance. But perception is reality, and in the minds of a generation of young Americans who have known only Murdoch’s version, conservatism must be interpreted as a conspiracy-laden ideology that is perhaps best suited to aging boomers who sit home watching cable news all day.
Rupert Murdoch’s stewardship of Fox News started off as a promising way to balance the liberal media monopoly, but ended up destroying American conservatism.
That is how I will always remember his legacy.