In recent weeks, elements within the Murdoch media empire have leveled relatively harsh criticisms against Donald Trump and flirted with the idea of Florida governor Ron DeSantis running in 2024. In June, Fox & Friends cohost Brian Kilmeade said the former president was “unhinged” in the weeks between the 2020 election and January 6—a period he described as “the worst moment of Donald Trump’s political career.” The New York Post’s editorial board later reacted to the January 6 committee’s findings by declaring Trump “unworthy” of reelection, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote that he “utterly failed” the country that day.
That sentiment is reportedly shared at the very top of the network’s food chain: Fox News chief executive Lachlan Murdoch has privately lambasted some of Trump’s behavior, arguing that another Trump bid in 2024 would be bad for the country, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. additionally, The New York Times and The Washington Post published reports in July suggesting that the Murdochs are attempting to quietly wean Fox News off its Trump-centric coverage, with The Post noting that Trump may have outlived his usefulness in the eyes of Rupert Murdoch.
But news of the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Palm Beach home this week appears to have triggered a total relapse of the network’s pro-Trump messaging, complete with hosts and guests pushing a baseless conspiracy theory in defense of the former president.
On Tuesday, Trump attorney Christina Bobb floated the evidence-free claim that the FBI may have planted evidence in Trump’s home. “What the FBI is probably doing is planting evidence,” said Jesse Watters, the host of Fox’s 7 pm ET slot. “We also have a hunch they doctored evidence to get the warrant.” Watters also described the FBI as “bloodthirsty savages who want to see you humiliated and violated,” and interviewed Alina Habba, another Trump lawyer, who reiterated the conspiracy theory. The next day, Senator Rand Paul also suggested in an interview with Fox & Friends that the FBI may have planted evidence “to enter” Trump. Ainsley Earhardt, one of the show’s cohosts, firmly agreed, noting that the agents who conducted the raid “brought in backpacks” with them. “What was in those backpacks?” Earhardt asked. “Did they bring those in to fill them up or did they have something in there?” (The FBI, which rarely comments on active investigations, has not yet revealed what it was searching for during the raid or what materials it seized.)
Meanwhile, some Fox News personalities are calling for a political counterattack in the name of avenging Trump. “If the president––if the Republicans get back in office,” said Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on Tuesday, “I don’t want them to have hearings…I want them to start prosecuting.” Will Cain, one of her colleagues also warned that Republicans would use their powers to enact revenge should they retake control of the federal government, in the form of raids against Representative Eric Swalwell, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and President Biden’s son, Hunter. “Republicans will eventually take power and then they’ll do the same thing 10 times over,” Cain said. “That’ll be just the beginning. And will that be good for the country? Probably not. But it will be inevitable.”
After news of the raid broke Monday, Fox News had on many of Trump’s closest allies and family members, including former Trump administration officials Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany, as well as his son Eric and his daughter-in-law Lara, by Media Matters. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon also made a guest appearance on the network, likening the FBI to “the gestapo.” And Fox News star Laura Ingraham, who decried the Justice Department as Joe Biden‘s “Praetorian Guard,” lent her platform to a guest who called for the abolition of the FBI, which he equated to the “East German Stasi.”
Needless to say, while the Murdoch family might be eager to dispense with Trump, Fox News is not. As Darcy writes, the “personal views of the Murdochs shine through” the network’s coverage when Trump’s absence from the news cycle leaves a vacuum that can be filled. But when the rubber hits the road and there are blue windbreakers outside Mar-a-Lago, Fox News will still rush to his defense.