Life after Tucker: Lachlan Murdoch says Fox does ‘best thing for the company in long term’

Fox Corp. Executive Chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch defended the company’s strategic vision after the break-up with top-rated news host Tucker Carlson, saying the network’s focus is on doing “the best thing for the company” in the long haul.

Asked for “additional color” about Mr. Carlson’s removal, Mr. Murdoch said: “I’m not going to go into programming decisions at Fox News, short of saying that all of our programming decisions are made with the long-term interest of the Fox News brand and the Fox News business at heart.”

“So we make those decisions really thinking broadly, or long term, in terms of what is the best thing for the company in the long term,” Mr. Murdoch said Wednesday at the SVB MoffettNathanson inaugural conference on technology, media and telecom.

Fox News Channel has seen its prime-time ratings dip after replacing Mr. Carlson with a rotating coterie of hosts in the 8 p.m. ET slot, while audiences at Newsmax, Fox’s biggest conservative news competitor, have increased.

Even so, Mr. Murdoch didn’t appear worried, saying Fox continues to win most of its time slots and has thrived despite losing high-profile personalities in the past.

“And we’ve done it before, right?” said Mr. Murdoch. “Bill O’Reilly was a superstar. Megyn Kelly was a superstar. Glenn Beck was a superstar. And we’re able to move forward with programming decisions that ultimately result in the long-term growth and profitability of the business. So that’s number one.”

In addition, he said, the network’s advertising hasn’t been hurt.

“From an advertising point of view, the whole business is incredibly strong, including still at 8 o’clock, and we’re seeing advertising, if anything, strengthen at FOX news rather than weaken,” said Mr. Murdoch, who didn’t mention Mr. Carlson by name.

Mr. Carlson hosted the highest-rate evening show in cable news, but his program was unexpectedly canceled April 24, days after Fox settled a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million.

Mr. Murdoch, son of Fox News Channel founder and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, defended the company’s decision to settle the case rather than take it to court, saying he was confident Fox would have prevailed but that it would have been a “distraction.”

“So, what happened in the Dominion case though was that we were denied our ability to rely on a First Amendment defense and we were denied an ability to rely on newsworthiness, which meant almost by definition, we’re going to be in a multiyear, prolonged legal battle which we would ultimately win,” Mr. Murdoch said.

A Delaware judge ruled in March that the case could proceed, finding the network had aired numerous false claims about Dominion’s voting machines. Fox had argued that it was bringing its viewers newsworthy statements made by key public figures as part of its 2020 election coverage.

Mr. Murdoch said the “distraction to the company, the distraction to our growth plans, our management, would’ve been extraordinarily costly, which is why we decided to settle.”

“But ultimately it was a difficult decision to make but the right decision, because I don’t believe that Fox News or any of our hosts engaged in any defamation during the whole period,” he said. “But it was the right business decision.”

He noted that CNN last week hosted a town hall for former President Donald Trump last at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, during which Mr. Trump repeated his unproven assertion that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”

“So the question is, how do we not get sued? Well, it’s a great question. We could be CNN, right?” said Mr. Murdoch.

“CNN had a town hall with the former President where he made a lot of allegations about the [2020] election, if you believe,” he said. “And I haven’t seen a lawsuit yet. Maybe there’s one coming but I’m not going to hold my breath.”

Mr. Murdoch made the case for giving airtime to newsmakers, saying “if you believe it’s newsworthy to have a former president, also a candidate for the next presidential election, if you believe that’s newsworthy in [2023] — well, certainly it was newsworthy in 2020.”

Mr. Carlson said in a May 9 video that he plans to restart his show on Twitter, calling it the last remaining major media platform allowing free speech.

Complicating the move is that Mr. Carlson is currently under contract with Fox News. His attorney alleged in a letter that Fox breached its contract with the host and asked the network to preserve all documents related to his ouster, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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