SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Rupert Murdoch threw his support and that of his media outlets behind President Trump, and that alliance has served both well. Now Fox News is covering a close election in which the results seem to tilt toward Joe Biden. And as the president baselessly claims the election's been stolen, a rift appears to be opening within the cable news network.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been watching a lot of Fox News this week. David, thanks for being with us.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Pleasure.
SIMON: Help us understand the crucial importance, really, of Rupert Murdoch in shaping the Republican Party's understanding.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think you start with the fact that Trump's core voter is Fox's most-loyal viewer. And for the past 20 years, you know, you haven't had smoke-filled rooms determining the future of the Republican Party. It's that the party has been working out its issue in Fox News' studios. That binds those viewers to Fox, and it binds the party's fate and the politician's fate to Fox. But it gets complicated because Trump demands, essentially, ultimate loyalty from Fox. So do his supporters. Even Rupert Murdoch's liberal daughter-in-law, Katherine Murdoch, weighed in, saying, look; you have to be constructive here. The family needs to be playing a role in binding the nation together after this election.
SIMON: We have monitors on in our studio, including one for Fox News. And it's irresistible to note that they sometimes seem to be covering a different election...
SIMON: ...Than it is on the other. What's turning up on the air now?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think you see - on the news side, you see journalists and anchors gently steering Fox's viewers toward the reality that Biden is likely, in fact, probable to win, while acknowledging the concerns of Trump supporters. They're offering facts to the contrary. Bret Baier, to the chairwoman of the GOP, basically says, you know, we see a lot of things on the Internet, but when we chased down concerns of voter fraud, there's not much there. Reporter Eric Shawn said he confirmed that official Republican observers were monitoring accounts in Philadelphia, directly contradicting the claim of the Trump campaign. Nobody needs to see that more than Republican voters and Fox viewers.
And then on the other side, from the opinion folks, there's this voracious defense of Trump and voracious defense of some of Trump's baseless - just to our understanding - untrue claims. You find that in Sean Hannity's show. You see in Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo - not just in what they say, but in who they have on the air, what claims they give credence to.
SIMON: How have the president and his supporters responded so far?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's been a lot of fury. You know, the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner called - angrily called Rupert Murdoch earlier this week and said, look; you guys called Arizona for Joe Biden before anybody, and it's now getting closer and closer. Pull it back. Pull it back. The campaign put out an official statement denouncing the decision desk chief for Fox News - that is the person leading the team that made that call - and saying he ought to be fired. A Republican senator went on radio in his home state of North Dakota and called for him to be fired. And you saw in Maricopa County, Ariz., a bunch of pro-Trump supporters, people who you think might be most likely to turn to Fox for their news, chanting live on the air on MSNBC, Fox sucks.
SIMON: Mercy. Do you think the Trump-Murdoch alliance is fraying?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, the ratings have been off the charts thanks to Trump on Fox. And while Murdoch is conservative and made this alliance, he's also super-pragmatic. He's basically starting to cut the cord and deciding it's time to move on. This is how he's doing it. And that's how he tends to do things in politics in the U.S., in the U.K. and Australia - with a short, sharp shock.
SIMON: That's from Gilbert and Sullivan, as I recall.
FOLKENFLIK: Right, which is not aired that often on Fox News.
SIMON: No, you're right - nicely done. Do you see signs that Fox is preparing for a Joe Biden presidency?
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, I think the news side is playing things relatively conventionally for an election. It's not doing recount, you know, 2000, where everything was in doubt for over months. It is giving a lot, however, of credence throughout the day, and especially during the opinion shows, as I said, to people casting doubt on Biden's legitimacy. And that will be a strain that you're going to see should Biden pull this off. And it's already clear hosts would proceed by attacking Biden, his son, Hunter, for questions of - they see ethical problems, make Vice President Kamala Harris a bogeyman and attack both Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which they already do. In some ways, it's easier to be in opposition than play defense.
SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much for being with us.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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