A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
On Thursday I devoured a column by political thinker Lee Drutman, for 538, titled “How Much Longer Can This Era Of Political Gridlock Last?”
His answer was, in essence, that hyper-partisan politics are here to stay. For a long time. “Deepening partisan trench warfare will only worsen fights over the basic rules of voting,” he wrote, “undermining the shared legitimacy of elections on which democracy depends.”
Then I heard Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch speak at an investor conference. And he reaffirmed Drutman’s analysis without knowing it. How so? Because Murdoch signaled that Fox News will keep sending reinforcements down the trench for the partisan warfare.
Speaking at the Morgan Stanley TMT Conference on Thursday, he said “the main beneficiary of the Trump administration from a ratings point of view was MSNBC. That’s because they were the loyal opposition.” And “that’s what our job is now with the Biden administration. You’ll see our ratings really improve,” he predicted.
The days of Fox portraying itself as a “fair and balanced” news network are long gone, but external perception is still catching up to the internal reality…
A rep for the NBCUniversal News Group forcefully responded to Murdoch’s comment about MSNBC:
“Our role, and the role of any legitimate news organization — whether it includes an ‘opinion section’ or not — is to hold power to account, regardless of party.”
The anti-Democrat channel
On one level Lachlan was just being honest. Fox’s brand is anti-Democrat. It has been for a long time. But the last time a Democratic president took office, twelve years ago, Fox execs contorted into pretzels to avoid stating the obvious. Bill Shine told me back then that Fox would “cover the news in a fair and balanced way.”
Read that archived NYT story to see how much has changed. Fox’s content is further right-wing than it was back then. And more news hours have been converted to full-fledged talk shows. That’s why I believe the best way to measure Fox is by its journalism. How many bureaus are being operated? How many scoops are being generated? How many reporters are being hired? How much original reporting is on the air? Sadly, all those numbers are relatively low. Murdoch is investing in opinion, not news. Fewer facts, more fights.
Fox’s audience was “disappointed…”
Brian Lowry writes: “While his reference to Fox being ‘the loyal opposition’ is understandably getting attention, it shouldn’t obscure another quote from Lachlan: how the Fox News audience was ‘disappointed with the election results,’ as if Fox played no role in helping to stoke that anger or establish that frame of mind…”