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Apr 30, 2023, 9:59pm EDT
media

The Murdochs’ Ukraine connection

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
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The Scoop

Fox News Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch held a previously unreported call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this spring in which the two discussed the war and the anniversary of the deaths of Fox News journalists last March. The Ukrainian president had a similar conversation with Lachlan Murdoch on March 15, which Zelenskyy  noted in a little-noticed aside during a national broadcast last month.

The conversations came weeks before the Murdochs fired their biggest star and most outspoken critic of American support for Ukraine, Tucker Carlson. Senior Ukrainian officials had made their objections to Carlson’s coverage known to Fox executives, but Zelenskyy did not raise it on the calls with the Murdochs, according to one person familiar with the details of the calls.

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Max’s view

The Murdoch’s have not revealed which of Carlson’s many provocations triggered his firing, and there’s no particular suggestion that Zelenskyy — whom Carlson had called a “dictator” — delivered the final blow.

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But Carlson’s firing will immediately relieve pressure on key Capitol Hill Ukraine supporters whom Carlson had criticized on air — and sometimes pressed behind the scenes to change their positions on the war.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul has been one of the most outspoken Republican supporters of the US support for Ukraine, stepping out of line to occasionally reprimand figures in his own party who do not share his views on the subject.

In a segment last year, the Fox News host told viewers that the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had privately called his show “Russian disinformation.”

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“In other words, not only are we wrong — which is fine — we are disloyal Americans. We’re doing the bidding of a foreign power,” Carlson said. “That is not fine, that is slander.”

According to two people familiar with the conversation, the then-Fox News host also made his displeasure to McCaul known in a tense private conversation in which Carlson criticized the congressman’s comments, describing the congressman as having a low IQ. (Both Carlson and McCaul’s office declined to discuss the conversation).

The populist Republican right remains hostile to the war effort and at times openly sympathetic to Russia. But none of Fox’s other top figures seem to share Carlson’s zeal.

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“Clearly, he spooked a lot of members into not being fully supportive of Ukraine,” a senior Republican congressional aide told Semafor. Carlson’s ouster, the aide added, “probably reduces the loudest voice out there against U.S. support.”

Regardless of the reason for Carlson’s departure, more moderate pro-Ukraine members of the Republican caucus on the Hill are not hiding their relief.

“There have been some that have argued that he was setting foreign policy for the Republican Party, which I find to be bizarre. Certainly not for me,” Sen. Mitt Romney told the Hill. “To the primary [Republican] voter, the active participant, the grassroot voter, he’s a person they listen to and has a big influence.”

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Room for Disagreement

Washington has a long history of pushing out dissenting voices on issues of war and peace. “Cable news may struggle to find an entertainer equally skilled at skewering comfortable pieties on the left and right,” Lee Harris and Luke Goldstein wrote in the progressive American Prospect, before being drubbed by their colleagues for ignoring Carlson’s appeal to racists.

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The View From Moscow

Russia state media outlets have offered the outgoing host a job on their networks: RT tweeted that he could “question more” by joining the network, while Russia’s most popular broadcaster said he would “happily offer you a job if you wish to carry on as a presenter and host! You are always welcome in Russia and Moscow, we wish you the best of luck.”

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Notable

  • The New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages, Murdoch family mouthpieces, have regularly criticized Republicans who oppose the war. The Wall Street Journal editorial board said DeSantis made his “first mistake” by characterizing the war as a “territorial dispute.”
  • Murdoch “was disturbed by Carlson’s stance on Ukraine. A graphic on Carlson’s show had referred to Volodymyr Zelensky, president of the besieged nation, as a ‘Ukrainian pimp,” the Washington Post reported
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