Opinion | As Murdoch outlets slam Trump, what does Sean Hannity say?
On cue, all manner of commentators are citing the criticism as evidence that Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan Murdoch, the top executives at Fox Corp. and News Corp., which own Fox News and the Journal, respectively — are “done” with Trump, or some variation of that argument.
As we’ve written before: Not so fast, folks. Murdoch won’t be “done” with Trump until his chief propagandist, Sean Hannity, is done with Trump.
The Murdochs must enjoy these media moments, given how frequently they pop up. To wit:
- A few days after the 2020 presidential election, no less a Trump supporter than the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, “Trump’s legacy will be diminished greatly if his final act is a bitter refusal to accept a legitimate defeat. Republican officials will turn away, and eventually so will the American public that wants to see the election resolved.” Those words raised eyebrows. CNN headlined its analysis “Are Fox News and Murdoch world turning on Trump?”
- In November 2021, Rupert Murdoch dinged Trump in a call with News Corp. shareholders, saying that the national political debate “will not happen if President Trump stays focused on the past. The past is the past, and the country is now in a contest to define the future.” The Post headlined a news story: “Rupert Murdoch says Trump should move on.”
- In July 2022, editorials in the Journal and the New York Post hammered Trump based on revelations from the investigation of the House committee on Jan. 6. Trump had “utterly failed” the test of Jan. 6, opined the Journal.
All these examples yield an important lesson about the federalism that prevails in the Murdoch media empire. It’s apparently just fine that the mogul’s print publications adopt one stance toward Trump while opinion hosts at his most influential outlet, Fox News, promote an entirely different one. For while the newspapers have attacked Trump, Hannity has given the former president airtime in softball interview after softball interview. He also played a central role in boosting Trump’s midterm agenda, presiding over puffy events and interviews with multiple Republican candidates.
Now, in the midst of all the Murdoch murmuring, Semafor reporters Shelby Talcott and David Weigel report that the Hannity-Trump alliance might be foundering. Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz lost his Pennsylvania campaign against Democrat John Fetterman despite Hannity’s strong and persistent advocacy for Oz. Trump emerged from election night “upset” with Hannity, according to Talcott and Weigel.
Let’s put that in context: Prime-time anchors at Fox News have extraordinary autonomy to say and do what they want. Hannity has used that latitude to boost Trump rhetorically as well as crossing over into political activism on his behalf. This behavior has persisted ever since Trump has been at the center of national politics.
On Wednesday night, in his first show since the Republicans’ disappointing midterm showing, Hannity steered away from discussing the former president, focusing instead on the Republican candidates who won and the pitfalls of those who “overpromise” and “under-deliver.” After seven years of praising Trump, Hannity is unlikely to shift gears just because others in the Murdoch empire have written some critical editorials. If Trump’s fortunes keep sliding, the host might one day embrace alternatives.
And make no mistake: A Hannity breakup with Trump — which might just entail a revolt among Hannity’s core viewers — would be the greatest spectacle in cable-news history.