Dear Commons Community,
This past Thursday, James Murdoch, the son of media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, sent an email (see full text below) offering a striking repudiation of President Trump and a pledge to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. He addressed the note to “friends,” stating in the first line that he was writing it in a “personal capacity, as a concerned citizen and a father.” As reported in the New York Times:
“The message was sent to a number of business associates from his company email address at 21st Century Fox, the global media conglomerate where he reigns as chief executive. And within two hours, it had been leaked to the news media, offering a window into the nuanced internal and external politics of the Murdoch media empire.
The email also raises questions about whether it is a harbinger of change at the Murdoch-controlled conservative-leaning media outlets — including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post — and the political direction of the company under a new generation of Murdoch leaders, James and his brother, Lachlan, the company’s executive chairman.
With the note, James Murdoch joined a number of other chief executives this week in rebuking the president for his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and denouncing racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis. Most chief executives released public statements in their roles as business leaders, although some invoked personal terms in their messages.
But Mr. Murdoch is not just any chief executive, and the company he runs, especially its cable news network, has enormous influence over the country’s politics and media.
Rupert Murdoch, 86, who has long pursued power rather than a specific ideology, has served as an informal adviser to Mr. Trump and repeatedly urged him to fire Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist and nationalist who exited the White House on Friday.
At the same time, the Murdoch family controls both News Corporation, the owner of The Journal and The Post, as well as 21st Century Fox, home to a sprawling collection of movie studios and television networks. While there have been some cracks in the conservative wall, with the newspapers publishing more commentary critical of Mr. Trump, Fox News is known as Mr. Trump’s preferred outlet.
That creates an uneasy balance for James Murdoch, 44, who is known to lean more toward the center than his father, but rarely expresses political views publicly. A fiscal conservative, James and his progressive-minded wife, Kathryn, have long advocated for the environment and expressed embarrassment by certain elements of Fox News, associates have said. Kathryn Murdoch has expressed contempt for Mr. Trump on her Twitter feed.
The response from other Twitter users is often critical.
“Well Kathryn it would help if your family’s business #FoxNews wasn’t a synchophantic state media arm of the Trump regime #WednesdayWisdom,” one user said. “Some in your orbit have potential to alter the media ecosystem within which his parasitic organism self thrives,” said another.
Despite all that, the Murdoch sons have said repeatedly that they didn’t plan to significantly change the formula for Fox News, which fuels the company’s business. Analysts estimate that the division generated 25 percent of 21st Century Fox’s operating income last year, which was $6.6 billion.
“He is trying to straddle a recognition that there are a lot of problems out there, and whether Fox News has contributed to them or not, the problems exist,” said Brian Wieser, a media analyst with Pivotal Research. “Even though James is technically the C.E.O., he’s somewhere between can’t and won’t do anything that would cause changes to Fox News. This is a tricky divide.”
Mr. Wieser, who has a buy rating on 21st Century Fox, said that the most common pushback he received from investors involves their concerns about the future of Fox News, calling James Murdoch a “liberal” who will “ruin Fox News,” he said.
“James has to be mindful that the health of the overall enterprise is dependent on Fox News holding up,” Mr. Wieser said.
We can only hope that more of James’ thinking influences how his father’s media businesses especially Fox News operate.
Subject: Personal note from James Murdoch re: ADL
I’m writing to you in a personal capacity, as a concerned citizen and a father. It has not been my habit to widely offer running commentary on current affairs, nor to presume to weigh in on the events of a given day save those that might be of particular or specific concern to 21CF and my colleagues. But what we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people.
These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation — a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals. The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.
Diverse storytellers, and stories, can make a difference, and that diversity, around the world, is a crucial strength and an animating force in my business. Often times not everyone agrees with the stories and positions that emerge from this, and that can be difficult. Certainly no company can be perfect. But I’m proud of the powerful art that can emerge, and I’m grateful to all of my colleagues who make this happen. From the potent and compelling narrative of “12 Years a Slave”, to the streets of Pakistan and the bravery of an extraordinary young woman that we saw in “He Named Me Malala”, to name just a few, we’ve never been afraid to help storytellers and artists say important things – hard things, too.
To further demonstrate our commitment, Kathryn and I are donating 1 million dollars to the Anti-Defamation League, and I encourage you to give what you think is right as well. We hardly ever talk about our charitable giving, but in this case I wanted to tell you and encourage you to be generous too. Many of you are supporters of the Anti-Defamation League already – now is a great time to give more. The ADL is an extraordinary force for vigilance and strength in the face of bigotry – you can learn more here: https://www.adl.org.
My very best to you and with all my gratitude,