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Bernard Keane

Tony Abbott is ideal for Fox board, whose core product is grievance and division

If you were thinking of a job for former prime minister Tony Abbott — Australia’s worst-ever leader, until Scott Morrison came along — where would you start? He has no business experience of any kind, having spent nearly all his adult life, after a brief stint as a journalist, on the public teat as a political staffer and then MP. He has no demonstrated executive or governance skills, having run a chaotic government and a shambolic cabinet that went from landslide victory to his own dumping in less than two years, including Abbott declaring 18 months into his time as PM that “good government starts today”.

What about policy expertise? Trade, arguably — although only in bilateral trade agreements, which are unrelated to free trade — and perhaps defence (his idea to have conventional submarines built cheaply in Japan looks, in hindsight, like the smartest idea anyone’s had in Australian naval policy for the past decade).

But nothing too technical — he famously, in defending his ignorance of basic facts around the National Broadband Network, said “I’m no techhead”. So the last place you’d probably appoint him is to the board of a major communications and media company… which is exactly what the Murdochs have done in nominating him for the board of Fox Corp.

Abbott is replacing Jacques Nasser, the former Ford boss and BHP chair, and Anne Dias, a top-level investment manager (her funds follow global media, technology and telecommunications companies). Both joined the board in 2019 when Fox Corp was formed out of former Murdoch company 21st Century Fox.

Is there a reason why the Murdochs might not be so keen to keep Dias on the board? We know from the Dominion case — Judge Eric Davis specifically cited her — that “on January 11, 2021, FC (Fox Corp) board member Anne Dias told the Murdochs that ‘considering how important Fox News had been as a megaphone for Donald Trump, directly, or indirectly, I believe it is time for Fox News, or for you, Lachlan to take a stance. It is an existential moment for the nation and Fox News as a brand’.”

Lachlan Murdoch forwarded her email to his father. “Just tell her we have been talking internally and intensely, along these lines and Fox News, which called election correctly, is pivoting as fast as possible,” the Sun King told the dauphin. “We have to lead our viewers, which is not as easy as it seems.”

Tony Abbott may have zero experience as a funds manager, no understanding of communications and be a demonstratedly incompetent executive, but he’s arguably a far better fit with the Fox board, and the Murdochs, than an investment manager prepared to call out Fox’s amplification of the despicable lies of Trump.

How so? Because Fox isn’t a communications and media company. Its television networks — like the newspapers of its sister company also controlled by the Murdochs, News Corp — are merely the factories for its core product: white grievance and victimhood, and racial and political division. That’s what the Murdochs sell across all their platforms.

Tony Abbott is ideal for such a company. His climate denialism is notorious. He attacked Muslim Australians while prime minister and continued to deride them after being forced from office. He says — predating Jacinta Nampijinpa Price — that the British invasion and colonisation of Australia was good for First Peoples and he has misled people about Indigenous programs. And while admitting Trump was a “sore loser”, he has lauded the insurrectionist-in-chief as a very good president with “great political integrity” (a claim that has aged well through four major indictments of Trump).

And if it’s true that Dias is walking the plank for daring to question the genius of the Murdochs, there was no sign of any financial punishment of them for the false claims Fox made against Dominion and their failure to control them and protect Fox from a massive defamation payout settlement. The US$787 million paid to Dominion Voting Systems and several other settlements this year, in connection to the lies about how the November 2020 poll was “stolen’ from Donald Trump, took the total legal cost for Fox in the year to June 30 to US$894 million.

Then there’s a current US$2.7 billion case involving Smartmatic in the New York courts, with a hearing due for early 2025. But don’t bother looking for any reference to the legal settlements, or the Smartmatic case, in the new chairman and CEO’s letter to shareholders in the 2022-23 annual report. It’s like looking through a News Corp publication for any reference to the Murdochs beyond sickeningly hagiographic.

Indeed, Murdoch senior gave himself a pay rise despite the Dominion disaster. Rupert got a 24% pay increase in the year to June 30 to US$22.9 million (A$35 million), up from US$18.9 million the year before, along with more than US$140 million of pension and retirement benefits. Lachlan Murdoch’s compensation totalled US$21.77 million (A$33.4 million), barely shifted from US$21.75 million the year before.

Telling old white wealthy Americans that they’re the real victims of contemporary US society truly is a goldmine. At least for some.

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