At 7:58 p.m. on Saturday evening, gun control’s newest advocate took to Twitter to call for stricter firearm legislation. “Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy,” wrote News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, “but how about some bold leadership action?” Around the same time at Fox News, one of Roger Ailes’s deputies was sending a very different message.
According to sources, David Clark, the executive producer in charge of Fox’s weekend coverage, gave producers instructions not to talk about gun-control policy on air. "This network is not going there,” Clark wrote one producer on Saturday night, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange. The directive created a rift inside the network. According to a source, one political panelist e-mailed Clark that Bloomberg was booked on Meet the Press to talk about gun control. Clark responded, “We haven't buried the children yet, we're not discussing it.” During the weekend, one frustrated producer went around Clark to lobby Michael Clemente, Fox’s executive vice-president for news editorial, but Clemente upheld the mandate. “We were expressly forbidden from discussing gun control,” the source said. Clark's edict wasn't universal: On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace talked with Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Dick Durbin about gun control, and later in the program, panelists Bill Kristol and Fortune editor Nina Easton weighed in on the issue.
Certainly Fox’s decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy’s human dimension. But Fox’s coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. “Not only do they carry guns, they don’t allow an honest debate on TV,” a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment on Ailes's Second Amendment views.
While Ailes’s network said it wasn’t the right time to talk about legislation, Murdoch had no hesitation. Within hours of the attack, he took to Twitter to call for an automatic-weapons ban. “Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy,” he wrote, referring to Australia’s move to ban assault weapons in 1996 after a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 21. That massacre came six weeks after the horrific mass school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in which sixteen children and one adult were murdered. (Despite Murdoch's plea, automatic weapons are already illegal in the United States; Adam Lanza used semiautomatics.)
As a global media mogul, Murdoch's newspapers and television networks have the power to shape public opinion. Already there are signs that parts of Murdoch’s empire are adopting the boss’s position. Today's New York Post cover, fronting a photo of Obama, declared, "ENOUGH!" In London, where gun culture is decidedly outre, the cover of the Sun screamed, "END THE LUNACY." Murdoch "is obviously very affected by what’s gone on," News Corp. executive vice-president Joel Klein told me. "I think most rational people would think there’s no place for assault weapons. I don't think it's complicated." He said that Murdoch will continue to advocate for gun-control policies.
But aside from News Corp.'s soon-to-be-separate print division, there were few signals that Murdoch's call for gun control was having much effect. The Fox & Friends Twitter account sent out a message at 7:43 a.m. highlighting one nonlegislative method for preventing future massacres without a firearm crackdown: “Gov Mike huckabee joins us LIVE at 7:52am EST ... do we need to get prayer back in our schools?”