Former Australian prime minister blames Fox News for America's polarized politics
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A year and a half after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Americans are still sorting through what drove the attack. A small Australian news outlet called Crikey argued recently that the Murdoch family bears some responsibility. Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch is now suing Crikey for defamation. But the political news site is not alone in its criticism. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently said that Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan's father, has done more to undermine American democracy than any other individual alive today.
Malcolm Turnbull, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: Those are very strong words. What led you to conclude that, as you put it, Rupert Murdoch has done more to undermine American democracy than any other individual alive today?
TURNBULL: Well, he's responsible for Fox News. Fox News has played, by far, the largest single part in the polarization of American politics, in the amplification of political hatred. I would challenge anyone, any of your listeners, to nominate which individual alive today has done more to undermine American democracy than Rupert Murdoch.
SHAPIRO: The Murdoch media empire is arguably more influential in Australia than it is in the U.S. And so can you describe during your years as prime minister, from 2015 to 2018, what it's like to govern a country when one family owns news outlets that have so much influence over how current events are perceived?
TURNBULL: Well, look, it is very challenging. They operate more as a political party or a political organization. You know, they meddle in politics very directly. You know, my prime ministership came to an end in 2018, and Rupert Murdoch himself was very actively involved, not simply campaigning against me in his newspapers because I wasn't sufficiently right wing politically and deferential enough to him, but also he solicited the support of other media proprietors.
SHAPIRO: But isn't some of this the nature of a free press, that there will be powerful media organizations that wield their power in ways that you disapprove of?
TURNBULL: Well, I'm not suggesting they should be censored. I'm just saying they should be held to account. I mean...
SHAPIRO: What does that look like in your view?
TURNBULL: Well, what that means is that, firstly, you've got to recognize that you've got to be prepared to call it out. I mean, most people who are registered Republicans, according to pollsters, believe Trump's big lie, namely that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. Now, the context of those falsehoods and the falsehoods themselves have been distributed, amplified, promoted through right-wing media. Fox News is not the only source of this madness, but it is by far the single most influential one.
SHAPIRO: You know the Murdoch family pretty well. Why do you think someone like Lachlan, with the power and influence of the Fox empire, would go after a small news outlet like Crikey?
TURNBULL: Well, it's just stupid, right? You know, Murdoch publications, large and small, and broadcast outlets are being sued for defamation all the time. You know, it's part of their business. And they have regularly complained about, you know, defamation laws being too harsh and...
SHAPIRO: For context...
SHAPIRO: ...We should also mention that Murdoch and Fox are fending off a pair of defamation cases in the United States from election technology and voting machine companies about false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections, in which these companies are claiming that Fox and Fox contributors defamed them.
TURNBULL: Yes, of course. Well, that's right. Americans are seeing their democracy trashed, and it is being trashed in large part by right-wing media. Look, it's not for me to tell Americans how to run their country. I had a crack at running my own for three years. But I just say this to you - what happens in Washington is as consequential for us as it is for you. Nations like ours depend on the maintenance of American democracy. We have a huge stake in it. And so the biggest challenge to the United States is not Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin. It's the animosity, the division, the anti-democratic movements within the United States itself.
SHAPIRO: Malcolm Turnbull was the prime minister of Australia from 2015 to 2018. Thank you for speaking with us.
TURNBULL: Thank you so much.
SHAPIRO: And in response to the former prime minister's comments, a Fox corporate spokesperson told us Fox News routinely has a larger audience than CNN and MSNBC combined and the most politically diverse audience of any cable news network. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.