Media mogul Rupert Murdoch by all accounts has an unusually close relationship with Donald Trump, who is a huge fan of his Fox News Channel with its fawning coverage of the president.
However, that doesn’t mean Murdoch actually holds Trump in high regard all the time, as shown by an anecdote in Michael Wolff’s upcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” according to The Guardian, which acquired an advance copy of the book.
In December 2016, shortly after Trump’s election, Murdoch ended a phone call with the president and told an associate, “What a fucking idiot.”
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The phone call took place on December 14, while Trump was working on the presidential transition. During that period, Trump met with different groups of business leaders and others as he chose his cabinet and began staffing his administration.
This particular meeting was with executives from the technology industry, most based in California’s Silicon Valley, with a list that included the leaders of Alphabet (parent of Google), Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.
One topic discussed at the meeting with Trump was the use of H-1B visas, which the tech firms use to hire foreign workers, often for IT jobs, and usually at a lower pay than Americans would command.
Trump during the campaign had made immigration a big issue and suggested he would crack down on the use of the H-1B visas because they take jobs from Americans.
Later that day, after the meeting, Trump called Murdoch, the powerful Australian-born 86-year-old media mogul and influential conservative, who the president speaks with at least once a week, according to several reports.
Murdoch asked Trump how the meeting with the Silicon Valley executives had gone?
“Oh, great, just great,” said Trump, according to Wolff’s book. “Really, really good. These guys really need my help.”
“Obama was not very favorable to them,” added Trump, “too much regulation. This is an opportunity for me to help them.”
Murdoch did not agree and told the president, “Donald, for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”
Trump insisted that they “really need these H-1B visas.”
Murdoch told Trump that allowing more use of H-1B visas would be at odds with Trump’s tough talk on immigration.
“We’ll figure it out,” replied Trump.
As Murdoch got off the phone, he shrugged and said, “What a fucking idiot.”
If Wolff’s reporting is accurate, it is a rare insight into how Murdoch really feels about Trump, with whom he has a kind of mutual aid pact. Trump loves how he is covered on Fox News, in the New York Post, and in other media that Murdoch controls; and Murdoch needs Trump to facilitate his pending $52.4 billion sale of part of his empire to the Walt Disney Company.
While Trump’s administration has sued to stop the sale of Time Warner and its CNN news channel to AT&T, the president reportedly favors allowing Murdoch to do his Disney deal.
When it was first announced, Trump is said to have called Murdoch to make sure the sale would not include Fox News. It does not. It is mostly a sale of Murdoch’s entertainment assets like 20th Century Fox and its regional sports networks.
Trump is not likely going to be pleased to hear Murdoch called him an “idiot,” but the two have a relationship that benefits both enough that neither is likely to end their connection.
Murdoch has played the role of kingmaker in Australia and the United Kingdom for years, often with a close relationship with the nation’s top leaders, and he is an expert at currying favor and using his powerful media assets to give him extraordinary leverage.
Trump may well be an “idiot,” as Murdoch said, but he is not a fool, and will not let go of a relationship that in a world where everyone else is “fake news,” his view of Fox News is that it is his first choice for coverage, and often the source of his daily tweets.
— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) January 3, 2018