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As Fox News Played Down the Coronavirus, Its Chief Protected Himself – The New York Times

If you were watching some of the commentators on Fox News and Fox Business in the first 10 days of March, you wouldn’t have been too worried about the coronavirus — it would be no worse than the flu, and the real story was the “coronavirus impeachment scam.

Many of the networks’ elderly, pro-Trump viewers responded to the coverage and the president’s public statements by taking the virus less seriously than, a week later, everyone else had. Public health experts have said that some of them may die as a result, as I reported this week.

But one elderly Fox News viewer, a crucial supporter of President Trump, took the threat seriously: The channel’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, who was to celebrate his 89th birthday on March 11.

On March 8, as the virus was spreading, the Murdoch family called off a planned party out of concern for the patriarch’s health, according to a person familiar with the cancellation. There were about 20 people on the guest list.

The celebration was to be held at Moraga Vineyards, the sprawling estate in Bel Air, Calif., where the elder Murdoch has been spending most of his time with his wife, the model and actress Jerry Hall. Mr. Murdoch bought the property for $28.8 million in 2013.

The person who told me about the canceled party did so to highlight the disconnect between the family’s prudent private conduct and the reckless words spoken on air at their media company.

The canceled party is perhaps the most glaring instance of the gap I wrote about this week between the elite, globally minded family owners of Fox — who took the crisis seriously as reports emerged in January in their native Australia — and many of their nominal stars, who treated the virus as a political assault on Mr. Trump, before zigzagging, along with the president, toward a focus on the enormity of the public health risk.

Mr. Murdoch is in good shape for an 89-year-old, people around him say. But he took a bad fall on a yacht in January 2018, an incident that rocked his empire, and he no longer regularly takes control of his newsrooms as he did a few years ago.

His successor at Fox — which includes Fox News, Fox Business, the broadcast network and sports businesses — is his 48-year-old son, Lachlan, whom associates describe as unready for the challenge of steering a complex company and its powerful hosts through a public health crisis. The younger Murdoch has played little role in the recent coverage, people with knowledge of the company said.

Rupert Murdoch has claimed privately in recent days that he contacted the most powerful of the Fox News hosts, Sean Hannity, to urge him to take the crisis seriously, but Mr. Hannity denied to me that he had heard from Mr. Murdoch on the topic.

A spokesman for the Murdochs did not respond to an inquiry about the party cancellation.

The celebration would have taken place on the night that reality finally set in for many people. On March 11, Tom Hanks and his wife were diagnosed with the coronavirus, the National Basketball Association canceled its season and Mr. Trump delivered a sobering address. Instead of an event for 20 guests, the elder Murdoch and Ms. Hall, the person close to the family said, hosted a small dinner attended only by close family members.

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