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Rupert Murdoch knew Fox News stars were endorsing 2020 election lies, he says


One sensational headline has followed another in the defamation suit against Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation. Dominion Voting Systems brought the case, seeking $1.6 billion. At the top of this media empire sits Rupert Murdoch. We learned this week he knew Fox stars were endorsing lies about the 2020 elections. And this is far from the first time Murdoch has come under severe scrutiny, so NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here to put these developments into context. Hey, David.


SHAPIRO: You've followed Murdoch's career for a long time. You wrote a book about him. How surprising were his admissions in this lawsuit?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, there's this phrase of our moment, right? Things are shocking and yet not entirely surprising. You got to think back to what this all stems from. It's election night 2020. Fox News is the first TV outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden, thus essentially making it all but impossible for then-President Donald Trump to win. This is not what Fox News viewers want to hear. They want to hear Trump triumphant. And there's outrage. They start peeling away from Fox.

And Murdoch, in what we've learned from his own sworn testimony, what we've learned from the emails and texts and other things that have come to light, was in the thick of conversations about how to do this and how to keep Fox viewers back - get them back on side, even as he journalistically recognized that his own people were propagating lies. And the other thing that you saw in this lawsuit were acknowledgements of the degree to which he really was steeped in the question of Republican and conservative politics and how to define that in a moment where Trump looked very vulnerable.

SHAPIRO: And to take a step back, how does this fit in with past scandals involving Murdoch and his media outlets?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they really carry his DNA. All of his outlets do - in his native Australia, the U.K., the U.S. But let's go back to 2011 - British tabloids under fire because it turns out they've been hacking into the cellphones and the emails and the voicemails not only of royals and celebrities and sports stars, but also of ordinary crime victims. And Murdoch himself was hauled into Parliament to account for what had happened. Here's what he had to say.


RUPERT MURDOCH: I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life.

SHAPIRO: Still, Murdoch said, that's not his fault that people under him failed him. That's not the way a lot of people in Britain looked at it at the time. You had British member of Parliament Zac Goldsmith get up and say Murdoch's papers were able to intimidate politicians and bribe law enforcement officials because of the influential role that Murdoch had played in politics.


ZAC GOLDSMITH: Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very, very talented businessman. He's possibly even a genius. But his organization has grown too powerful, and it has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police. And in my view, it has gelded this Parliament, to our shame.

FOLKENFLIK: And so for the Brits, the scandal resided in the persona of Murdoch himself.

SHAPIRO: And so here we are, more than a decade later, with another huge scandal and lawsuit involving Murdoch and one of his media properties. What have we learned fundamentally about Murdoch and Fox News?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you saw behind the scenes the extent to which Murdoch was not only trying to figure out how Fox should operate, but also figure out how he could do things to pivot the Republican Party to electoral success and do it in a stage beyond Trump. He was trying to push to ditch him, even as he was lurching to try to embrace the Trump voters, who, of course, were the Fox viewers. And what we saw, in a sense, was Fox being revealed to what we've found it to be by our reporting. It's really a business operation around which is wrapped a highly ideological and political shop, around which is wrapped the public face of a news operation.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.