The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty (2023), by Michael Wolff

(Roger Ailes’) political, cultural, and programming sense converged into a single perception. It was a demographic appreciation of the radical disparities that had grown in American life–the wealth disparity, the education disparity, the generational disparity, the technological disparity, the gender disparity, the religion disparity, the white and others disparity, and the great rural-urban divide. There were two radically different countries, two dramatically different peoples. And this was not only a fundamental conservative belief in the traditional ways of life (idealized small-town, nuclear-family, churchgoing, know-your-neighbor–and agree with him–life), but a programming opportunity.

–Michael Wolff in The Fall

The lethal journalist Michael Wolff has given us a rip-roaring and persuasive argument that Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty are falling. As in his other books, Wolff is gripping. His style is a highly literary informality–as though you and he are having drinks in some well-appointed bar and he is telling you in a gossipy but utterly profound and entirely suspenseful way the Inside Scoop, based on his astounding ways of getting secretive revelations from Prominents.

Here is a book to read; no review can do it sufficient justice.

You will find in your conversation with Wolff:

–The Murdochs, especially the all-powerful Rupert, disliked their prodigal son, Fox News; as well as Donald Trump, rural conservative America, Laura Ingraham, and Roger Ailes, to name a few of the deplorable.

–Fox News, discovering a very large niche audience–a virtual country–and becoming the major media voice of that audience, made by far the league-leading money in cable news. Hence Rupert grumblingly left it in existence. But to Rupert it was an ugly duckling, a dread extension of Conservatism from the acceptable version a la George H. W. Bush-The Wall Street Journal to an ignorant, dangerous version. His son, James, wanted to remake Fox News into “a force for good.” But that would mean getting your hands dirty. Besides, Rupert, now entering his Nineties, found himself thinking that none of his children, except maybe Lachlan, might be up to the task of running his empire.

–When Ailes was dethroned at Fox News because of sexual harassment escapades, there was, of course, no love lost for him among the Murdochs. But in keeping their disdainful distance from Fox News, they birthed a growing beast with no master. Ratings kept soaring. And, of course, in a largely leaderless environment a sort of anarchic practice among anchors of throwing more and more red meat to the audience intensified and expanded, whether a given anchor privately savored the beef. After all, if you were to lose your job at Fox News, you were probably lost thereafter when it came to approaching the money you were making at loaded Fox: to wit: Greta Van Sustern, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, et al. You looked out for those ratings: a highly personal, self-protective matter.

–Inevitably there came the unprecedentedly large suit by the Dominion voting machine company when unmanaged Fox News broadcasters, running open loop, falsely accused it and other such companies–firms whose huge suits against Fox News are themselves also now looming–of a supposed complicity in the Trumpian lies about a “stolen” 2020 Presidential Election. Some Fox anchors and officials left damning records–emails, etc.–showing that despite their Trump-promoting accusations, including those directed at Dominion, they themselves didn’t actually believe the election was stolen. Just a matter of throwing the largest load of red meat to date to their disappointed, perhaps even mortified, and certainly desperately more-ravenous-then-ever, Fox News audience.

–Rupert said that $500 million in damages was his limit. Lets just settle now. Dominion, insists Wolff, wanted about $300 million more (which they got) plus a sacrificial lamb, a prominent one (which they got).

–So: Farewell, Tucker Carlson. You will find Wolff’s Inside Scoop about Tucker as Sacrificial Lamb to be compelling.

–To make a complex story simple, Fox News ratings have declined. CNN has been floundering anyway but (goodness!) MSNBC has overtaken Fox News in some time slots. Horrors at Fox News!

–Wolff finishes with speculation about a post-Rupert situation. And indeed, Rupert has stepped down as Wolff’s book has come out (though I don’t mean to imply a connection, just a coincidence). The essence of Wolff’s view seems to me to be that the already hugely wealthy Murdochs will believe their most profitable move, the least messy outcome, and therefore a move they’ll make in the near term, is to sell holdings, certainly and especially Fox News. And Wolff points out that the real media money, blue blood money, has been and still is in liberal news media, not conservative media, so one wonders about the future of Fox News in this scenario.

Don’t miss this one.