With the emergence of Rupert Murdoch’s politically progressive son, James, in the leadership of his media empire and the unceremonious exits from Fox News of CEO Roger Ailes and now flagship anchor Bill O’Reilly, the cable-news powerhouse’s niche as an alternative to the left-leaning CNN, MSNBC and broadcast networks is suddenly in question.
Back in 2010, the New York Times brought to light the struggle between Murdoch and his children over the future of the Fox News Channel, quoting Matthew Freud, the brother-in-law of James Murdoch and a PR specialist who was said to often maneuver behind the scenes on behalf of James.
The great-grandson of Sigmund Freud, Matthew Freud told the Times: “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”
Now, as CEO of parent company 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch, 44, reportedly played a decisive role in the ouster of both Ailes and O’Reilly, and, if his view of Fox News is any indication, fundamental changes could be on the way.
This week the Hollywood Reporter, citing insider sources, cast the “dream” of James Murdoch as “combining Sky News and Fox News with the vast Murdoch reach and producing some ultimate global news brand” that apparently would look more like CNN than the present Fox News.
“Where Fox News is parochial and America First, the new global brand is worldly and unlimited,” the Reporter said.
The paper said James Murdoch’s “longtime annoyance if not disgust with Fox News became cold fury” after the Times’ April 1 story about the accusations of sexual harassment against O’Reilly.
Despite the fact that Fox News is the biggest earning division of 21st Century Fox — with 20 percent of its profits — James “regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them.”
The feeling apparently is mutual, with many at Fox News regarding James as “exhibit No. 1 of the liberal elite entitlement that Fox had so profitably programmed against.”
Filling a void
Last August, the New York Times noted James Murdoch’s promotion of the theory of human-caused climate change clashes with much of Fox News commentary and reporting.
His wife, Kathryn, was a trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund and a former director at the Clinton Climate Initiative. The couple has launched a foundation, Quadrivium, that focuses on the “sustainable use of resources” and “scientific understanding,” and James has led initiatives to make 21st Century Fox “carbon neutral.”
In an essay in Time magazine in December, he wrote, “Entrenched and compromised interests spin the fiction that science is more divided than united, and they sow seeds of uncertainty on issues of unquestionable priority: namely, the survival of our species on this planet.”
In contrast, the Times summarized Fox News’s objective as filling “a void that conservative-leaning viewers sensed in the mainstream media.”
“That guiding philosophy has provided a steady compass, and a lucrative revenue stream, as its competitors have struggled with their own paths.”
‘Sympathetic to Democratic causes’
In its 2010 story, the Times reported Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, now executive co-chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, along with his daughter Elizabeth, a TV producer in London, and James “are sympathetic to Democratic causes and frequently voiced concerns to their father” about Fox News’s coverage of Barack Obama’s initial presidential campaign in 2008.
In an interview with the Times in 2010, Ailes said that both Rupert Murdoch, now 86, and News Corporation had been consistently supportive of Fox News and its approach.
Ailes, the son of an Ohio factory foreman, said the three-word credo that described his family upbringing was responsible for the success of Fox News: “God, country, family.”
“I built this channel from my life experience,” Ailes said. “My first qualification is I didn’t go to Columbia Journalism School. There are no parties in this town that I want to go to.”
Politico said that while both Ailes and then-Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon “were angling to be the media Svengali whispering in Trump’s ear,” a rift occurred between the two over star anchor Megyn Kelly, who since has signed with NBC.
Bannon, who now is Trump’s chief strategist, said his relationship with Ailes began to sour when Kelly hammered Trump in the first Fox News primary debate.
Bannon told Politico he warned Ailes that Kelly would betray him.
“I told him then, I said, ‘She’s the devil, and she will turn on you.’”
By the summer of 2016, Ailes was forced to resign after former Fox host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against him.
Politico said: “Since then, his legacy has been systematically dismantled, as several of the stars Ailes brought to the network have departed or been shown the door: Greta Van Susteren, then Kelly and, on Wednesday evening, Bill O’Reilly.”
Beginning Monday, Fox News will move the popular “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. Eastern slot, shifting “The Five” from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eric Bolling will leave his seat on “The Five” to host his own show at 2 p.m. Eastern. Jesse Watters, a fixture on “The O’Reilly Factor” with his tongue-in-cheek “Watters World” reports, will take Bolling’s place on “The Five.” Sean Hannity remains at 10 p.m.