New Fox chief Lachlan Murdoch deflected criticism of the company’s stewardship of Fox News, whose strident programming has inflamed Hollywood figures such as longtime Fox creators Seth MacFarlane and Steve Levitan.
“I understand where that’s coming from,” he said, responding to Levitan’s vow to never work for Fox again if it continued owning the cable news network. In another moment in the discussion, he took up for the network, noting, “Most of the biggest critics of Fox News are not watching Fox News.”
Murdoch made the comments during a session at The New York Times DealBook conference. Moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin pressed the executive numerous times about Fox’s Republican tilt, including the do-si-do that saw former Fox exec Bill Shine head to the White House and former communication staffer Hope Hicks go to Fox. He said it was “100% false” that Jared Kushner or others connected with President Donald Trump had manipulated the hiring of Hicks.
Asked about Trump’s affinity for Fox News, which has extended beyond on-air appearances to include re-tweeting its material on Twitter and mirroring key points made by its opinion hosts, Murdoch said, “I think he dislikes us less than everyone else.”
The Fox boss also dismissed the notion that the company has fanned extremist flames, though Sorkin asked about a sticker on mail-bombing suspect Cesar Sayac’s infamous van that read “CNN Sucks” — “which almost felt like it was out of a Fox show.” Asked how he felt watching those details of the bombing case emerge, Murdoch said, “I don’t take responsibility for a criminal who was a criminal before Fox News even started. I think it’s unfair to make that criticism of me or Fox news or any other media organization.” And yet when news organizations make mistakes — and he classified the appearance of a recent Lou Dobbs guest who was banned from Fox over comments perceived as anti-Semitic — an apology is warranted, he said.
At another moment, Sorkin asked Murdoch if he considered Fox to be a “red-state” company. “I think of it as an all-state media organization,” he said. “We program to everyone – the coasts in California and New York, but also everywhere in between.
Surprising some in the room, Murdoch also described himself as conservative on economic issues but liberal on many social issues (which he did not name). “I don’t fit neatly into a left-right, Republican-Democrat bucket. … When people tell me to think a certain way, I don’t like it.”
The newsy, half-hour session covered other meaningful ground. Asked to reflect on the Murdoch family’s decision to sell most of the company to Disney, Murdoch said he “never would have believed” it would happen a couple years ago.
Agreeing with Sorkin’s suggestion that Disney was always viewed as the preferred dealmaking partner, Murdoch said the family “could never get our heads around” the likely regulatory hurdles of a Comcast offer. He did offer an olive branch to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, saying he “will be a great steward of Sky” after Comcast prevailed in the $40 billion quest for control of the European pay-TV giant.
Asked about M&A moves, Murdoch said the regional sports networks are a potential target, as many on Wall Street expect. Nevertheless, he cautioned, “We’re a smaller company now … there are opportunity costs.” Other targets down the line could include a cable company, he said.
The political conversation stuck more than any of the business points. Sorkin took only two questions from the audience, one of which came from New Yorker journalist Ken Auletta, who asked if Murdoch would implement any changes to the Fox News lineup given his own mixed political views. Murdoch shrugged, “I don’t tell journalists what to say, or what to write.”