The Fox News election fraud revelations could topple the network’s embattled leader

New York

Who will Rupert Murdoch banish from the fox kingdom?

The chairman of Fox Corporation faces a deepening scandal that threatens to cause significant financial and reputational damage to the crown jewel of his media empire, Fox News, as well as the parent company he leads. The scandal, uncovered by the blockbuster $1.6 billion lawsuit of Dominion Voting Systems, revealed damning information, revealing that the right-wing talk channel, driven by financial interests, was willing to lie to its viewers.

The stunning levels of misconduct revealed in recent weeks are raising questions about the future of Suzanne Scott, the embattled Fox News chief executive. Will he be Murdoch’s sacrificial lamb? There are no moves currently on the immediate horizon, according to CNN. But it’s certainly possible – perhaps even likely – that Murdoch will call it off in an attempt to save himself and his legacy.

The Murdochs are “certainly setting Suzanne Scott up to take the fall for this,” Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Semafor who writes a Sunday night media column, said on Wednesday.

“They lead a trail of crumbs that lead back to her office,” added David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent and Murdoch biographer.

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There is no shortage of evidence to support the idea that Scott is on the chopping block. More specifically, during his testimony, Murdoch tried to distance himself from decision-making at Fox News. Instead, he pointed at Scott: “I appointed Mrs. Scott to the job … and I entrust her with everything,” he said. In doing so, Murdoch argued that Scott is responsible for the network — and if there was wrongdoing, it rests on her shoulders. Of course, astute media observers know that Murdoch is the person who really calls the shots. But it’s not hard to see how the company could advance that narrative.

It’s not the first time Murdoch has faced a serious and vexing issue in his media empire. In 2011, the now defunct News of the World newspaper was caught up in a phone hacking scandal. In 2016, Fox News founder Roger Ailes was accused in an explosive sexual harassment lawsuit. And in 2017, star host Bill O’Reilly was caught up in his own sexual misconduct scandal.

In any case, Murdoch made the decision to cut ties with top executives. As a source who once worked for Murdoch-world said on Wednesday, “His pattern was to throw some money overboard and offer a head or two in the process to get it done.” And cutting ties with Scott appears to be one of the easier ousters for Murdoch during his decades at the helm of one of the world’s largest media empires.

“Looking back at past scandals, Murdoch and the companies tend to try to pay early and quietly to make things go away, or they ignore them thinking they’re so big they can get away with it,” Folkenflik said. “And then when things really come to a head, they try to cauterize the wound at the lowest possible level.”

“If (Scott) was flying, he would only be doing it because he thought he needed to cauterize the wound before going any higher,” Folkenflik added. “That’s his record. That should do. They may be editors. It can be executives. They might be stars. He doesn’t throw himself to the side.”

Jim Rutenberg, the former New York Times media columnist who has an extensive history covering Murdoch, echoed that sentiment.

“Murdoch has a history of sacrificing loyal lieutenants, but only in the most extreme circumstances,” Rutenberg said. “We know he hates doing it. We know he tends to try to fight for his loyalists, even Ailes, certainly O’Reilly. But when it’s necessary to overcome a real threat to his business, he will.”

Whether conditions have reached a boiling point is still unclear. The Dominion lawsuit, which has already caused massive damage to the reputation of the Fox News brand, is still in the pretrial stage of the case. There’s no telling what might come of a week-long trial in which prominent executives and hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are invited to attend. And it remains to be seen whether outside forces, such as lawsuits by potential shareholders, come into play and put additional pressure on Murdoch to take action.

Regardless, it’s worth noting that Murdoch himself has signaled that shots may be coming. When asked in his deposition whether Fox News executives who knowingly allowed “lies” to be broadcast should face consequences, Murdoch replied in the affirmative: “They should be reprimanded,” he said. “They should be reprimanded, maybe get rid of them.”

As Folkenflik noted, “If you’re Rupert, you can’t fire Rupert. And you’re not going to fire (Fox CEO) Lachlan (Murdoch). So, who are you going to cut?’

“Everyone who takes a senior executive position under Rupert Murdoch knows this is happening, this is the ultimate fall position,” Folkenflik explained. “They understand that this is part of the job. You get paid very well. It can be a somewhat glamorous life. If you don’t favor the sun king or it’s in his favor, that’s part of the equation.”

We’ll see what Scott’s fate turns out to be. At this time, Fox is not offering any public statement of support for her. When I reached Fox representatives Wednesday for comment, the company declined.

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