He leaves behind a complicated and controversial legacy.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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In last week's Friday edition, we published the following two sentences: "Anyone who has even tangentially followed the hearings around the January 6 riots knows that there is widespread suspicion FBI agents were involved in the events of that day. We know for a fact there was at least one, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the reach of the FBI’s spies."
The second sentence should have read: "We know for a fact there was at least one informant." As published, the sentence implies there was one known FBI agent involved in January 6, which is not accurate. We've corrected this in our story.
This is our 92nd correction in Tangle’s 220-week history and our first correction since September 6. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.
- More than 20 Senate Democrats called for Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to retire yesterday, though in an unusual twist some congressional Republicans have rallied to his support. (The calls)
- President Biden endorsed demands being made by the United Auto Workers union in Michigan, and became the first sitting president to join a picket line. (The move)
- Ahead of a New York civil fraud lawsuit, a state judge ruled that former President Trump committed fraud by exaggerating his net worth on financial records. (The ruling)
- Hunter Biden sued Rudy Giuliani for accessing and sharing private data from his hard drive. (The lawsuit)
- The FTC sued Amazon, alleging it maintains monopoly power with anticompetitive business practices. (The other lawsuit)
- NOTE: The second Republican presidential primary debate begins at 9pm EDT tonight. (How to watch)
Rupert Murdoch steps down. On Thursday, 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch announced he was stepping down from his role as chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp, two of the largest and most influential media holdings in the world. He also owns several large conservative news outlets and founded the Fox broadcast network. Murdoch sold many of his media assets to Walt Disney Co. in 2019, but is still an influential force at Fox News, The New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal, three of the most influential conservative media outlets in the United States.
Murdoch, who is Australian, inherited a newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, from his father in 1952 that he parlayed into a global media and entertainment enterprise. In Britain and Australia, Murdoch also owns the Times, Sunday Times, and Sun newspapers, as well as the satellite broadcaster Sky.
Widely considered the most influential media mogul of his generation, Murdoch and his media empire could shape news narratives at large, and political candidates often sought out his approval in hopes of receiving more favorable coverage. Murdoch had a notoriously complicated relationship with former President Donald Trump, whom he was widely reported to have disparaged behind closed doors despite his popularity with Murdoch’s audiences.
Though Murdoch is in his nineties, the announcement that he is stepping down as chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp. took some by surprise given how active his role has been in the companies recently. His son Lachlan, who is already serving on both boards, will take over. Most media onlookers are not expecting any immediate or noticeable changes to the media conglomerates.
While Murdoch has reshaped the industry and launched several wildly successful enterprises, the last year has been notably challenging for Fox News and Fox Corp. Fox News had to pay a $787 million settlement to Dominion Voting Systems in a defamation lawsuit for knowingly airing false claims about the 2020 presidential election being stolen. A few months later the network parted ways with its most popular host, Tucker Carlson, who has since launched his own show on X (formerly Twitter) that has repeatedly challenged the network with counter-programming.
Murdoch is a divisive figure among news consumers in the English-speaking world. Today, we're going to share some reactions to his legacy from the left and right, then my take.
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What the right is saying.
- The right mostly praises Murdoch for his contributions to the conservative movement in the U.S.
- Some say he was a smart businessman who saw an untapped market for conservative viewpoints and created a media empire for it.
- Others argue that Fox News and his other media entities have ultimately hurt the country.
In The American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord wrote about Murdoch’s legacy as a “founding father of conservative media.”
“Along with National Review’s William F. Buckley Jr., our own American Spectator’s R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., and talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh, Murdoch helped create a mass media response to what had come to be recognized as the routinely left-centered worldview of major ‘mainstream’ media outlets such as the broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and the government-created PBS. Not to mention print outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post,” Lord said. “Unlike the owners of the major media outlets in the U.S., Rupert Murdoch was a conservative. An ally in Britain of the Tory Party’s Margaret Thatcher, in America he fashioned Fox News as the conservative go-to on television.
“Thus came television’s conservative stars — with names like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and later Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Greg Gutfeld, not to mention early morning’s Fox and Friends. Suffice to say the ratings were and are huge. Combined with the talk radio revolution headed by Rush Limbaugh and spreading conservative talk radio shows of national and local origin across the land, the revolution that became conservative media was now firmly in place… [Murdoch] has been a major force in leading the revolution that is today’s America’s conservative media. It is his legacy. Or one of them. Conservatives have much to thank him for. For that matter, whether they recognize it or not, so too do all Americans.”
In Townhall, Cal Thomas said Murdoch’s influence “will likely continue for some time.”
“To read and watch the reaction of people who have hated Fox News from its creation, one might think it resembles dancing on someone's grave, but at 92, Rupert Murdoch remains very much alive and his influence, not only on Fox, but in much of journalism, will likely continue for some time,” Thomas wrote. “Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, the man he hired to create the network, saw a market that felt ignored and stereotyped when attention was paid. Like any good business — and journalism is a business — they set out to reach that market. Ratings, profits and viewer loyalty quickly followed. Fox continues to dominate cable news and on occasion has beaten broadcast network ratings.”
“There would likely be no Fox News Channel, or talk radio, were it not for the monopoly the left has enjoyed for years in deciding what is news and what isn't and slanting their reporting to fit their mostly liberal political positions,” Thomas added. “Rather than learn from Fox's success, the elites continue to deride and put it down, deepening the loyalty of people who see the network as defenders and proclaimers of their beliefs. One of the canards hurled at Fox for years has been that it tells people what to think. In fact, it reflects beliefs conservatives already hold.” For his contributions to news media, Murdoch deserves not only the “gratitude of conservatives. He ought to have the gratitude of everyone in journalism.”
In the Daily Beast, Matt Lewis explained why he “can never forgive Rupert Murdoch.”
“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… 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,” Lewis said.
“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,” Lewis wrote. “Instead of elevating conservatism, Murdoch helped undermine conservatism as a serious philosophy, skewing instead toward tabloid conspiracy theories like birtherism and ‘rigged’ election allegations.”
What the left is saying.
- The left is highly critical of Murdoch’s legacy and think he did significant harm to Western democracies.
- Some say Murdoch is behind the rise in political polarization and misinformation that culminated in January 6.
- Others suggest his influence may be overstated by those on the left looking for a scapegoat.
In CNN, David Zurawik said Murdoch “helped wreck media — and politics.”
Murdoch “leaves behind a legacy of reckless, partisan journalism and commentary that has contributed to a citizenry so angry and polarized that our very democracy seems threatened according to some analysts. And with Murdoch handing off day-to-day control of the empire to his son, Lachlan, Fox’s dangerous way of doing business does not seem likely to change for the better. While there are other factors contributing to the polarization — like politicians and global economics — Murdoch’s Fox News has played a role even in those by showcasing the loudest and most transgressive members of Congress and scapegoating various groups from immigrants to Democrats for the nation’s economic challenges.”
Murdoch also “opened the cable news floodgates to propaganda, misinformation and disinformation. And he laid down the template for what has become a powerful right-wing messaging machine. And look where we are now as we struggle to find media platforms we can trust in an effort to make sense of beyond-the-pale-political actions like the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or the refusal of a defeated president to promote a peaceful transfer of power,” Zurawik wrote. “In a commercial sense, Murdoch is an incredibly successful media figure. If you worship money-making moguls and risk-taking captains of industry, he’s your guy. But as he now retires behind his wall of money, we are left to try to clean up the political wreckage he leaves behind.”
In The Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff wondered whether Murdoch’s current influence is “overstated” by the left.
“The Murdoch press has earned a fearsome reputation among progressives as a kind of giant toad squatting in the road, blocking the way to everything from higher taxes to gay rights and, above all, closer relations with Europe. Few did more to pave the way for Brexit than the immigrant-bashing, Brussels-baiting Sun, whose once cheeky Euroscepticism had descended by 2015 to the nadir of a Katie Hopkins column describing migrants drowning at sea as cockroaches,” Hinsliff wrote. “But if the right is too easily sold on silly populist conspiracy theories about a woke liberal elite controlling everything, the left has its own version… To see Murdoch as a wizard of such supernatural gifts is to misunderstand the origins of his power: put simply, people.”
What would happen to British politics “if Murdoch’s iron grip lessened? Just look around: it’s already happened. Power has been quietly ebbing for years away from his titles, alongside the rest of the mainstream media, towards Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube, platforms founded primarily by liberal tech bros and now swamped by white supremacists, Russian propogandists, haters and cranks. It’s new, not old, media increasingly driving the political volatility that has so destabilised western democracies, by taking what Murdoch did – giving the punters what they seem to want – to new extremes. His genius lay in a gut feeling for what angered or moved or titillated millions, long before algorithms made that easy to work out.”
In The New Republic, Alex Shephard said “good riddance” to Murdoch, who “made the world worse.”
“The worst thing that you can say about Rupert Murdoch, who resigned from the board of the Fox and News Corporations on Tuesday, is that no one has had a greater influence on the news over the last half-century. Murdoch’s influence is both incalculable and fantastically corrosive. It is impossible to look at all of the most malignant aspects of the current news environment—its pace, its callousness, its rancor—without seeing his impact.” Shephard wrote. Fox New was his “greatest and most destructive creation,” and the network “existed as an answer to long-standing conservative complaints that the media had a ‘liberal’ bias. It portrayed itself as a ‘fair and balanced’ corrective. It was, instead, a new, powerful partisan machine. It worked immaculately.”
“There is already hope in some corners that things will improve at Fox after Rupert’s exit. There is no reason to believe this will be the case, however. His son Lachlan, who is taking over, is a close friend of Tucker Carlson; describing himself as a ‘political independent,’ he has shown no interest in shifting Fox’s coverage in any direction, particularly one that would hurt its profitability,” Shephard said. “The cable news business is changing and shrinking. It is possible that this is the beginning of the end for Fox News and that Rupert Murdoch’s quasi-retirement will be seen as a shift in the network’s fortunes. But there’s no reason to believe that will happen anytime soon. The network is still built in Rupert’s monstrous image, and it is built to last.”
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- Murdoch sought to solve the real problem of conservative views not being represented in media, but his outlets have created junk food news.
- It's hard not to be impressed by what he has built and accomplished, though the kind of television news he popularized is worrisome.
- I don't expect Fox News to change anytime soon.
My feelings about Murdoch are complicated.
On the one hand, I loathe much of what network and tabloid news has become, and he played a huge role in that. Fox News entered the space with a purpose: to offer a conservative perspective that network television was missing. It succeeded in that endeavor for a while, but it became the mega-influential media powerhouse it is today by feeding viewers the news equivalent of junk food. Once it started crushing other cable news outlets like CNN, MSNBC and other networks, they responded by doing their best Fox News impressions — but for the left. The result is that cable news today is full of genuinely garbage information, which is part of Murdoch’s legacy.
On the other hand, what he's done is aspirational. He started with a single news outlet and created a global empire, one that influences entertainment and politics all across the planet. From an entrepreneurial perspective, and as someone trying to build his own media company, it's hard not to be blown away by his accomplishments. Even if you just limit the scope to American politics, it is genuinely stunning how much power and influence Murdoch’s media outlets have. It's hard to know how often and the extent to which he flexed that power, but there is no doubt those Murdoch-owned entities can drive entire political narratives (while damaging or elevating political careers) at the drop of a hat.
So, I can look at Murdoch and cringe at the damage some of his networks and news outlets have done to the media, but also see someone who I find genuinely impressive.
Of course, news media had needed more conservative voices for a long time, and what Murdoch brought to the space was important for bringing balance to that universe. I think our media ecosystem is now pretty balanced, and that it's mostly a fair fight between the left and right. In that regard, maybe his end goal was accomplished — more conservative voices are represented, and our media is far less captured by the center-left political worldview.
As for Fox News, his most valuable asset and the one most relevant to American politics, I wouldn't expect much change. They have a formula that works: Induce rage and fear and give viewers as much of their own worldview as they can take. It's the same formula MSNBC and CNN now use, Fox is just better and more experienced at it. They know exactly what they’re doing, and I’d be lying if I said anything nice about Fox’s cynical approach. Simply put, I think the way Fox delivers news is bad for the country and bad for people’s brains, and the last year has taught us they are willing to lie to their own viewers if it means good ratings. And if bringing some balance to the media universe is part of Murdoch’s legacy, that damage is undoubtedly part of it, too.
It’s hard to know what Lachlan will do next, but given how many people tune in every night, even in the absence of their star talking head Tucker Carlson, I don't see much incentive for him to change course. I don’t know if there is another way that is more profitable, but I sure wish he’d go looking for it.
Your questions, answered.
Q: I have seen so many articles in which the far left supports the big push of green energy (electric vehicles and wind power). The question I have is why does the far left not support natural gas, a very clean energy source. Yes, it requires drilling, which in my mind is not always a bad thing. This is not that much different than mining the metals for batteries. We don’t have to dig a big hole to dump old natural gas like we do with used up wind turbines or batteries, there is no “old natural gas” that I know of that we would have to dispose of.
Is the only reason, or real reason the far left won’t support this is because it has their major monies tied up into the support of electric batteries and wind power or is natural gas really a very bad thing?
— Tom from Pilger, Nebraska
Tangle: Let me start by saying that every fuel source has its own strengths and weaknesses. Every strength you list for natural gas compared to wind or solar also applies to petroleum. After both oil and gas are burned, there isn’t anything left over to dispose of.
They both share the same weaknesses, though: they emit atmospheric carbon, and increased atmospheric carbon causes higher global temperatures, which is the driving force behind anthropogenic climate change. While you’re right to say that natural gas is relatively clean when compared to oil (though it produces methane instead of carbon dioxide, which is a stronger greenhouse gas), it still has that disadvantage relative to renewable energy sources. Though to be fair, a lot of people on the left (and the right) concerned with climate change do favor natural gas to other fossil fuels precisely because it is relatively cleaner.
You’re also right to point out that every energy source requires some environmental cost to obtain it, with solar energy requiring mining for heavy metals, wind power requiring manufacturing and construction, hydroelectric power requiring massive amounts of concrete and damming, and oil and natural gas requiring drilling.
And while the mining required for battery materials like lithium seems to have worse local environmental effects than drilling for natural gas, the localized effects are all comparable, even if some are worse than others, while the effects on global climate are simply not. So that’s the leftist argument: Costs to the global environment are a higher priority than costs to local environments, and therefore even the cleanest-burning fossil fuel is less preferable to less advanced renewable energy technologies.
And to be transparent, I agree with it — as far as it relates to global warming. As it relates to the global economy, I think we should be pursuing an “all of the above” approach to energy while battery technology approves, solar cells get more efficient, wind turbine blades become more reusable, and we find cleaner and safer ways to get the minerals we need for those energy sources.
And we better hurry up and do that. It’s not like there’s some dense fuel source we can take from the ground safely, refine in a way that is environmentally safe, get energy from in a way that contains all of its dangerous byproducts, and produces a massive amount of energy without relying on foreign adversaries or emitting any atmospheric carbon.
Well, besides nuclear energy — but that’s a whole other conversation.
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Under the radar.
In 2014, Iran initiated a quiet effort to bolster its image on global security issues, including its nuclear program, by building ties with a network for influential academics and researchers. A cache of Iranian government correspondences and emails reported on in Semafor shows they had more success than previously known, with at least three people they positioned to advance their goals becoming top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration's special envoy on Iran. Malley was placed on leave this June and had his security clearance suspended. “The documents offer deep and unprecedented new insights into the thinking and inner workings of Iran’s Foreign Ministry at a crucial time in the nuclear diplomacy—even as Tehran’s portrayal of events is questioned, if not flatly denied, by others involved in the IEI,” the report says. “They show how Iran was capable of the kind of influence operations that the U.S. and its allies in the region often conduct.” Semafor has the story.
- $8.14 billion. Rupert Murdoch’s estimated net worth as of September 26, according to Bloomberg.
- $19 billion. Murdoch’s highest estimated net worth at any point in his career, following the 2019 sale of all entertainment assets within the Fox Corp. for $71 billion.
- $30 million. The price Murdoch paid to buy the New York Post in 1976.
- $5.6 billion. The price Murdoch paid to buy the Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones in 2007.
- $8.7 billion. The revenue generated by Fox’s television segment in the first half of 2023.
- $6.0 billion. The revenue generated by Fox’s cable news segment in the first half of 2023.
- Four. The number of Murdoch’s children — Lachlan, Elisabeth, James, and Prudence — who are equal beneficiaries of a trust that holds a 39% voting stake in News Corp. and a 42% voting stake in Fox Corp. Murdoch has six children in total.
- One year ago today we wrote about the elections in Italy.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the story of whether or not Donald Trump bought a gun.
- Lost credibility: 830 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking if Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) should resign due to allegations of corruption, with 81% saying that he should resign and is probably guilty. 14% said he should resign, though he may not be guilty. 3% said he is probably guilty but should not resign, and 1% said he should not resign and may not be guilty. "Convicted or not he has lost credibility and will likely be ineffective if he stays in office," one respondent said.
- Nothing to do with politics: A new geolocation guessing game.
- Take the poll. How would you characterize Rupert Murdoch's legacy? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
Hodan Artan works as a cleaner in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa. She was never taught to read or write, and has only managed to earn enough to afford a small hut for herself and her baby daughter. A few months ago, she found out about an app called Daariz, which, according to their user data, has now helped over 410,000 people across the region become literate. Through only a few hours of daily use, Artan gained the ability to read stories in her native Somali. And Artan is not alone in her struggle. The Horn of Africa is especially rural and has long struggled with schooling its widely dispersed population and teaching literacy. But Ismail Ahmed and his charity, the Sahamiye Foundation, believe apps like Daariz could provide the answer. "It used to take us to go to class to learn our own mother tongue," he says, "and now we have thousands of users who were able to be functionally literate in their own tongue without going to a class." The BBC has the story.
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