January 5, 2018 / 7:29 PM / a year ago

Breakingviews - Bannon woes gift Rupert Murdoch a Happy New Year

News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch waits to testify before the House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Clement

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Rupert Murdoch can keep his New Year celebrations going. Fresh from his $52.4 billion deal with Walt Disney, the media mogul may be a major beneficiary of a new book about dysfunction in President Donald Trump’s White House. The exposé is ripping apart the alliance between the president and his erstwhile aide and Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon.

Journalist Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” is a scorcher aimed at the Oval Office. Bannon, chief strategist for all of seven months after running the tail end of Trump’s election campaign, sets plenty ablaze, heavily criticizing both the president and his family.

Trump said Bannon, who returned to his job as chairman of conservative news network Breitbart last summer, had “lost his mind.” The president’s lawyers threatened to sue Wolff’s publisher, which responded by moving up the release to Friday. Breitbart’s board is mulling whether to oust Bannon, and the Mercer family, one of the outlet’s main shareholders, has distanced itself from him.

Murdoch plays a relatively small part in this tale as a man whose approval the president craves: “Trump would brag that Murdoch was always calling him; Murdoch, for his part, would complain that he couldn’t get Trump off the phone,” Wolff wrote.

But the repercussions of Wolff’s tell-all could play into Murdoch’s hands. Breitbart’s influence in conservative circles has grown considerably, not least thanks to Bannon’s rapport with Trump, despite its small size: Fox News brings in some $1.5 billion of profit a year, compared with just $1.5 million at Breitbart, according to the book. And Murdoch’s network has been hit by a rash of sexual-harassment allegations that forced out both its architect - now-deceased Roger Ailes - and popular host Bill O’Reilly.

Bannon’s possible defenestration may turn the tables by hobbling Breitbart’s clout. The timing couldn’t be better: Murdoch is preparing to launch what executives are starting to refer to as New Fox - the mainly news-and-sports business that will be left once the deal with Disney is complete. Having his upstart rival wounded on the sidelines would make that transaction all the sweeter.


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