Turning on Trump: Et Tu, Rupert? (OPINION)

Turning on Trump: Et Tu, Rupert? (OPINION)

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO columnist

Former President Trump, who often says the liberal media are the “enemy of the people,” has a new nemesis: the conservative media. They are turning on him with a startling vehemence in the wake of the Republican bellyflop in the midterms.

Even more startling, this turning on Trump is led by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. He controls Fox News and the New York Post, two of the most enthusiastic media backers of the former president, and The Wall Street Journal.

All three national platforms are taking potshots at Trump, and this clearly is by design rather than happenstance. For Rupert Murdoch, turning on Trump now, just as the he is announcing his run for 2024, is a business decision, more so than a political one. Fox News will have a harder time holding on to viewers if it devotes tons of coverage to a candidate who is likely to lose. It needs a new winner: enter Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Rupert loves to be a kingmaker,” says a veteran journalist who has covered the mogul since the 1990s. “There’s a consensus that ‘Trump is damaged, and we’re gonna put the knives in him now.’ They think he can’t win.” Murdoch is 91 years old—and still in charge.

One devastating stab from the plucky and puckish Post came two days after the election, with a full-cover illustration of an egg-shaped Trump, sitting on a red-brick wall outside Mar-a-Lago, his combover intruding on the newspaper nameplate with the following:

Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great  fall – can all the  GOP’s men put the party back together again?”

ThePost‘s headlines can be artful, and this one, promoting two separate columns  criticizing Trump, had a subliminal message embedded in it: Dump Trump. The tabloid cover delighted the liberal end of the mediascape, which covered it gleefully and hilariously.

Vanity Fair headline: “Rupert Murdoch Knees Trump in the Balls While He’s Doubled Over Coughing Up Blood”.

Followed by: “The message from the Murdoch-owned New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News is clear: Pack your bags, bitch. You’re done.”  This, for a column by the sardonic and snarky Bess Levin.

In London, the Telegraph said Trump was “ridiculed by his favourite newspaper,” while the Guardian asked, “Has ‘Trumpty Dumpty’ taken a great fall from Rupert Murdoch’s grace?” The Financial Times was more certain: “Trump and Murdoch’s marriage of convenience breaks down after midterms.”

The anti-Trump turn showed up in the Post’s news pages, saying Trump, in his "latest tirade," had “bizarrely suggested” CNN should make him the centerpiece of its coverage; and that the former president snubbed Gov. Ron DeSantis after his huge re-election win in Florida; and said the governor could "hurt himself very badly" by running against him for the 2024 nomination.

At the Journal, the editorial board, long critical of Trump, went ballistic: “Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser,” it decreed after the Republican belly flop. “Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat… Maybe by now Republicans are sick and tired of losing.”

The beatdown continued at FoxNews.com: "Trump blasted across media spectrum over Republicans’ midterms performance: ‘Biggest loser tonight,’” one story reported, quoting an über-liberal anchor on MSNBC, Chris Hughes, saying Trump “screwed Republicans.”

Another FoxNews.com article asserted, “Many conservatives put the blame on former President Donald Trump,” while the Media Buzz column of Howard Kurtz said “the consensus” is that Trump “made the election all about him(self).”

In other stories by Fox News, “Mike Pence says Trump ‘endangered me and my family’ with ‘reckless’ words on January 6,” and Trump offended black conservative Candace Owens.  In another story, a huge headline jeers: “Some conservatives turn on Trump for attacking Ron DeSantis: ‘What an Idiot.’”

Two takeaways on this Murdoch-led media massacre. First: doing it as clearly labeled opinion is defensible, so long as it doesn’t infect the news pages.  And second: In the eyes of millions of his fervent followers, the conservative media’s going all in against President Trump may further clinch his claim that the media are against him, elevating his mantel as martyr and underdog. This is something they might want to avoid doing.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business.