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The Murdoch media empire decides how to treat Trump after his campaign announcement

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The headline on the bottom of The New York Post's front page today reads simply "Florida Man Makes Announcement" - Page 26. That was about former President Donald Trump launching his latest bid for the White House. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board called him the Republican Party's biggest loser. Even Fox News is cooling on Trump. Murdoch-owned media companies had been among Trump's biggest boosters. And now, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is looking into whether they are bailing on him.

David, tell us more about how Murdoch outlets are covering this announcement.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, so much is pegged, as you suggest, to the unrealized red wave of last Tuesday's elections. It simply didn't materialize. And a lot of folks are putting that at Trump's doorstep given how many of the major candidates he endorsed flailed at the polls. You've seen The New York Post really deriding him and at the same time denying him oxygen. That Page 26 story was short. It was brief. It sort of made fun of the lack of knowledge about his cholesterol levels - you know, did not take him seriously as a consequential political figure. The Wall Street Journal, as you note, you know, essentially said it's time for him to get out of the business of this so Republicans can regroup and prove themselves.

And let me give you a flavor of the ambivalence on Fox News, you know, and Fox Business, really the homes of his strongest support. This clip I want to play from you is from Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney, a long-time Trump champion. He's asking a question here of a Fox News contributor whose name is Lara Trump. That is the wife of Eric Trump. Here's what Varney asked.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VARNEY AND CO")

STUART VARNEY: You were there. So I'm sure you're very supportive of your father-in-law. But those of us on the outside looking at it, it didn't seem as he got the old magic.

FOLKENFLIK: Even stars like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have suggested Trump would be a mixed bag for the Republican Party. They've been pretty full-throated defenders and supporters until now.

SHAPIRO: How is this different from the way Murdoch-owned media outlets responded to other tough times for Trump, from the impeachments to the insurrection?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look; we have seen this before. It's worth noting the Murdochs swung away during the hearings of the January 6 committee earlier this year. But then they snapped back into line when Trump supporters were outraged by the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago for classified documents held by Trump. Why? Well, those Trump supporters make up Fox's core audience. That's how Fox dominated in the era of streaming and in the emergence of these new right-wing outfits like Newsmax and OANN.

Even so, this represents a significant shift. The Murdoch support, particularly through Trump, has been real. Trump noticed. He's been trashing the Murdochs of late. And I think that there's sign of a potential real rift.

SHAPIRO: So is the conclusion here that backing losing candidates is, in Murdoch world, a greater offense than trying to overturn democracy?

FOLKENFLIK: I think the Murdochs got a lot of what they wanted out of Trump - those very conservative justices appointed to the Supreme Court, huge tax cuts for the wealthy. And it's a moment of weakness for Trump. Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch have signaled they want to move on. Somebody who I spoke to who has talked to Lachlan says that right now, you know, Fox News can cover the news as it's happened, both in opinion and in - on the news side, and they won't be tying themselves into pretzels to try to make things look good for Murdoch. You know, I think it's a moment of weakness, and they want to see they can take advantage of it to find a new face for the Republican Party.

SHAPIRO: How are we going to know whether this time the split is real and not just temporary?

FOLKENFLIK: I'm something of a skeptic on this. It's like Lucy with the football again and again with Charlie Brown. I will say, when the campaign starts to pick up, if they give running room and license to major Republican figures, particularly those on Capitol Hill, to criticize Trump without being beaten down and suffering a real backlash from Fox stars, that'll tell you something. But if Trump's followers rebel, I think the Murdochs will probably sprint to the head of the Trump parade and make it look like they were leading all along.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.