After Rupert Retires, NPR’s Folkenflik Rants on ‘Corrosive…Right-Wing’ Fox News on PBS

News & Politics

The “public” broadcasting elite loathes Fox News. When news broke that 92-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Fox News founder and chairman of News Corp, is stepping down in favor of his son Lachlan, that encouraged tax-funded PBS to trot out Murdoch-bashing journalist David Folkenflik of tax-funded National Public Radio on Thursday evening to lament the chairman’s “corrosive” right-wing influence on the media landscape.

PBS knew what they were getting. Folkenflik is the author of a hostile 2013 biography of Murdoch and delights in Fox News scandals (CNN and MSNBC ones? Not so much).

Reporter John Yang asked Folkenflik about the elder Murdoch’s legacy.

FOLKENFLIK: The legacy that endures is sort of the success and the fun at times of his right-wing populism, but also the punitive and pugilistic nature of it that has been ultimately quite corrosive, not only to our sense of what fair play is in journalism in this country and in some of the others, like the U.K. and Australia, in which he was so dominant.

But even throughout our body politic, where the — this asymmetrical influence he had over the Republican Party and the degree of, in a sense, business and political power he obtained as a result has left him serving an audience that wanted rawer and rawer red meat, that ultimately led him to chasing his audience, rather than guiding them to a place that involved the facts. And I think it undermined the sense of a young man who started out as a newspaper man with a keen sense for a story and for fun and for an inconvenient fact to a guy who’s chasing the audience views by serving what they call the brand of FOX News, rather than the news provided by FOX News.

The media reporter was also harsh on his home stage at NPR talking with Leila Fadel on Morning Edition, using similar judgmental language.

He showed his ideological colors when he lumped the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (i.e., “Brexit”) as part of Murdoch’s “destructive political legacy.”

Folkenflik: Well, his legacy — you know, he supported politicians in his native Australia and in the U.K. from the center left to the far right, and in this country he supported people from center right to the far right….And it’s an extraordinary success story, but it’s also one which is strewn with sort of a destructive political legacy. He’s propped up politicians who did things like Brexit in the U.K. He — his embrace — despite his contempt for Donald Trump as a politician, his embrace of him publicly with Fox News and the New York Post and other places for much of Trump’s tenure helped lead to this disastrous embrace of the completely baseless claims of electoral fraud in 2020….

In the NPR hive mind, you don’t associate the New York Post in 2020 with the Hunter Biden laptop, which liberal media and social media suppressed. NPR buries that they called that story a “pure distraction” and engaged in what we could call a “disastrous embrace of the completely baseless claims of Russian disinformation around the laptop.”

At the time Folkenflik said you couldn’t trust it: He claimed the New York Post was “suspect” and the main reporter had worked for Sean Hannity. Folkenflik scorned it as “speculative partisan advocacy. “

Appearing on NPR show All Things Considered on Thursday, he gave Mary Louise Kelly the same alliterative spiel:

Folkenflik: ….But I think there’s also the broader question of, you know, the legacy he leaves both as a builder of this enormous media outfit and of creating a sort of punishing and pugilistic right-wing populism that ultimately was corrosive for the civil societies in which they operated…

This was a truly global enterprise. And he had prime ministers and presidents seeking his input and his influence. But it was a corrupting influence that he had. And he ultimately not only was able to have a stake over the Republican Party, but found that its voters were pulling him in a corrosive direction.

Folkenflik is the author of the 2013 book Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires. The left-wing Huffington Post called it “the gift that keeps on giving.”

This conservative-media-bashing segment was brought to you in part by Consumer Cellular, and taxpayers like you.

A transcript is available, click “Expand” to read:

PBS NewsHour

9/21/23

7:21:51 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett: Rupert Murdoch, the chair of FOX and News Corp, is stepping down from running his global media empire.

John Yang has more on his legacy and his successor.

John Yang: Geoff, over seven decades, Rupert Murdoch assembled an unmatched global media empire, newspapers, television and movies in the United States, Britain and Australia.

It includes FOX News, the FOX television network, FOX Sports, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post. The 92-year-old Murdoch has used them to wield enormous political influence in three continents. But they have also led to some self-inflicted wounds, most notably FOX News’ $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems for defamation over the 2020 election.

David Folkenflik is NPR’s media correspondent. He’s also the author of Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

David, when Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, steps down in November, he’s going to hand the reins over to his elder son, Lachlan, who’s 52. Do you think anything is going to change then about the approach, the tone, the political slant of particularly FOX News and the other FOX News outlets, newspapers?

David Folkenflik, NPR: I don’t.

I think that Lachlan is, if anything, slightly more conservative than his father, a little less politically engaged, to be sure, and a little less corporately engaged, and less sort of ceaselessly ambitious than his father to keep expanding and maneuvering.

He’s really been focusing his maneuvering on getting atop of this family empire. So, no, I think that FOX has been trying — the two Murdochs, father and son, have been trying to figure out if there’s a way to cultivate a challenger to Donald Trump in the Republican primaries for next year’s presidential elections, giving, for example, Ron DeSantis the longest audition possible in front of viewers.

He’s failed to catch fire. It’s been widely reported they’re interested in Glenn Youngkin and perhaps others. But if Donald Trump, as he did in 2016, steamrolls the competition, I think you’re going to see Lachlan Murdoch’s FOX News sprint to the front of the parade and make as if they were leading it all along, just as FOX News did in 2016.

John Yang: Lachlan Murdoch has essentially been co-chairman with his father since 2019.

What has his performance in that period told us about him?

David Folkenflik: Well, I think what it’s told you is that he wouldn’t have that job if his last name were yours or mine.

He’s made some smart investments when — involving an online site involving real estate in Australia, the question of Tubi, which is sort of an advertising-premised television channel or service now. But it’s nothing to indicate that this is somebody who brings incredible vision or incredible charisma to the job.

I think he’s found to be charming inside FOX, personable, somewhat absentee, particularly during this COVID period, had spent time in Los Angeles initially, now in Sydney, where his family is based much of the time. I think that Lachlan Murdoch is seen as driven to get this job. And it’s not entirely clear what much differently he’d like to do with this job.

I think one of the things that it has shown up is that Rupert Murdoch is in some ways truly a one-of-a-kind, very hard to replicate either through a corporate successor or a designated child.

John Yang: One of a kind.

His legacy — what do you think is going to be a bigger part of his legacy, the business empire he built or the political influence he developed?

David Folkenflik: Well, I think you’re going to see probably in coming years, and particularly after Murdoch’s death, Rupert Murdoch’s death, that much of this unwinds, that the other adult Murdoch children who are control in with family trust won’t want to hold onto it, simply for Lachlan to run.

They’d rather unlock the value. And in that case, the legacy that endures is sort of the success and the fun at times of his right-wing populism, but also the punitive and pugilistic nature of it that has been ultimately quite corrosive, not only to our sense of what fair play is in journalism in this country and in some of the others, like the U.K. and Australia, in which he was so dominant. 

But even throughout our body politic, where the — this asymmetrical influence he had over the Republican Party and the degree of, in a sense, business and political power he obtained as a result has left him serving an audience that wanted rawer and rawer red meat, that ultimately led him to chasing his audience, rather than guiding them to a place that involved the facts.

And I think it undermined the sense of a young man who started out as a newspaper man with a keen sense for a story and for fun and for an inconvenient fact to a guy who’s chasing the audience views by serving what they call the brand of FOX News, rather than the news provided by FOX News.

John Yang: David Folkenflik of NPR, thank you very much.

David Folkenflik: You bet.

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