The News

“Rupert Murdoch Put His Son in Charge of Fox. It Was a Dangerous Mistake.”

“The chief executive of Fox News, Suzanne Scott, reacted swiftly to the threat of the coronavirus in late February: She ordered the bright, open new offices disinfected, installed hand sanitizer stations around the office and canceled the company’s major ad sales event. But her influence doesn’t extend to the most important part of Fox News: its programming in prime time. There, for two crucial weeks in late February and early March, powerful Fox hosts talked about the “real” story of the coronavirus: It was a Democratic- and media-led plot against President Donald J. Trump. Hosts and guests, speaking to Fox’s predominately elderly audience, repeatedly played down the threat of what would become a deadly pandemic. The person who could have stopped the flow of misinformation was Scott’s boss, Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation. But he wasn’t paying attention. The 48-year-old heir to the family fortune was focused on buying a streaming company called Tubi for $440 million. The acquisition would drive “longterm growth,” he announced in a release. The most-watched news channel in America has become, since the fall of its founder, Roger Ailes, much more like the Trump White House: a family business where it’s not entirely clear who is in charge. Lachlan Murdoch failed to pry its most important voices away from their embrace of the president’s early line: that the virus was not a big threat in the United States. People close to Lachlan Murdoch describe him as a laid-back executive who doesn’t spend his days watching Fox and is sometimes surprised to learn of a controversy it has generated. I asked Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Public Health Institute, who appeared on Fox News recently, whether he believes people will die because of Fox’s coverage. “Yes,” he said. “Some commentators in the right-wing media spread a very specific type of misinformation that I think has been very harmful.”

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