The retirement of Rupert Murdoch, the global media mogul perhaps most responsible for our contemporary media dysfunction, prompted renewed speculation about the future of his far-flung media holdings. In the U.S., questions swirled about what this change might mean for Fox News' dominance, not to mention its penchant for disinformation.
If you were hoping the network would suddenly become a bastion of journalistic integrity, don't get your hopes up. And Murdoch would like you to know that he's proud of his lifework.
"Our companies are in robust health, as am I," Murdoch wrote in an open letter to his employees. "Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years."
The facts suggest a less rosy future for Fox.
Murdoch's decision to appoint his eldest son, Lachlan, as his successor is likely to continue the network's more blatant white supremacist turn since the Murdoch heir took over as CEO of Fox Corp. in 2019.
Journalists Gabriel Sherman and Brian Stelter, known for cultivating sources deep within Fox News, theorized that his retirement may increase the likelihood of a sale. The company's extensive and growing legal liabilities, tied to the network's increasingly brazen falsehoods, present a considerable headwind.
The $787.5 million settlement it paid to Dominion Voting Systems for promoting false claims of fraud during the 2020 presidential election has sparked additional lawsuits. And another $2.7 billion lawsuit, this time from Smartmatic Corp., looms on the horizon.
Founded in 1996, the network was built on a foundation of 50-plus years of conservative media activism, which cultivated a widespread belief in mainstream "liberal media" bias. Murdoch hired Roger Ailes, a Republican media consultant, who catered programming toward this lucrative and underserved market. Fox has since skewed the entire U.S. political system, setting the news agenda as the highest-rated cable news channel for more than two decades.
Fox's real success — and damage — has come less from its outright lies than from its conveyance of what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway once called "alternative facts." Its audiences are not detached from reality so much as they are provided with a clear and (to them) compelling narrative with which to interpret the news of the day.
A company wishes its customers "Happy Holidays" to be more inclusive, and it becomes the War on Christmas. Turns out some African Americans participated in the Revolutionary War, so liberal college professors must be lying about the deep legacies of racism.
Fox's purpose has long been to convey the news in a style that appeals to white working class cultural tastes in order to cultivate a broad-based conservative common sense.
Murdoch exhibited this commitment in his retirement letter.
"Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class," wrote Murdoch, a billionaire Oxford University alum, without a hint of irony. "Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing truth."
This is a blatant projection, of course. Fox News has long prioritized political narratives designed to match and amplify its audience's beliefs over any commitment to pursuing truth. That Fox now faces competition on its right flank from outlets like Newsmax, One American News and Right Side Broadcasting only solidifies Murdoch's legacy of having laundered right-wing narratives as a news.
Unlike Murdoch, that's not going anywhere.
A.J. Bauer is an assistant professor of journalism and creative media at the University of Alabama.