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New York Post Published Hunter Biden Report Amid Newsroom Doubts

The New York Post’s front-page article about Hunter Biden on Wednesday was written mostly by a staff reporter who refused to put his name on it, two Post employees said.

Bruce Golding, a reporter at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid since 2007, did not allow his byline to be used because he had concerns over the article’s credibility, the two Post employees said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Coming late in a heated presidential campaign, the article suggested that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had used his position to enrich his son Hunter when he was vice president. The Post based the story on photos and documents the paper said it had taken from the hard drive of a laptop purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden.

Many Post staff members questioned whether the paper had done enough to verify the authenticity of the hard drive’s contents, said five people with knowledge of the tabloid’s inner workings. Staff members also had concerns about the reliability of its sources and its timing, the people said.

The article named two sources: Stephen K. Bannon, the former adviser to President Trump now facing federal fraud charges, who was said to have made the paper aware of the hard drive last month; and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was said to have given the paper “a copy” of the hard drive on Oct. 11.

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Mr. Giuliani said he chose The Post because “either nobody else would take it, or if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out.”

Top editors met on Oct. 11 to discuss how to use the material provided by Mr. Giuliani. The group included the tabloid veteran Colin Allan, known as Col; Stephen Lynch, The Post’s editor in chief; and Michelle Gotthelf, the digital editor in chief, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Allan, who was The Post’s editor in chief from 2001 to 2016 and returned last year as an adviser, urged his colleagues to move quickly, the person said.

As deadline approached, editors pressed staff members to add their bylines to the story — and at least one aside from Mr. Golding refused, two Post journalists said. A Post spokeswoman had no comment on how the article was written or edited.

Headlined “BIDEN SECRET E-MAILS,” the article appeared Wednesday with two bylines: Emma-Jo Morris, a deputy politics editor who joined the paper after four years at the Murdoch-owned Fox News, and Gabrielle Fonrouge, a Post reporter since 2014.

Ms. Morris did not have a bylined article in The Post before Wednesday, a search of its website showed. She arrived at the tabloid in April after working as an associate producer on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her Instagram account, which was set to private on Wednesday, included photos of her posing with the former Trump administration members Mr. Bannon and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as well as Roger J. Stone Jr., a friend and former campaign adviser to Mr. Trump. (In July, the president commuted the sentence of Mr. Stone on seven felonies.)

Ms. Fonrouge had little to do with the reporting or writing of the article, said three people with knowledge of how it was prepared. She learned that her byline was on the story only after it was published, the people said.

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Boycotted. Criticized. But Fox News Leads the Pack in Prime Time.

In one sense, this has been a difficult period for Fox News: a star anchor fired after being accused of sexual harassment, a lawsuit depicting a misogynist workplace, a top writer exposed as a racist internet troll, advertiser boycotts and outrage after Tucker Carlson called protesters “criminal mobs” and questioned the patriotism of a senator who lost her legs in Iraq.

In another sense, business has never been better.

In June and July, Fox News was the highest-rated television channel in the prime-time hours of 8 to 11 p.m. Not just on cable. Not just among news networks. All of television. The average live Fox News viewership in those hours outstripped cable rivals like CNN, MSNBC and ESPN, as well as the broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC, according to Nielsen.

That three-hour slot is a narrow but significant slice of TV real estate, and it is exceedingly rare for a basic-cable channel to outrank the Big Three broadcasters, which are available in more households and offer a wider variety of programming.

Even the return of live sports did little to stop the momentum: The Fox News programs hosted by Mr. Carlson and Sean Hannity drew more live viewers than competing baseball and basketball games, including a Yankees-Nationals matchup on Opening Day.

Fox News’s big summer has been boosted by a rise in audience for news programming in general, an increase driven by interest in the pandemic, civil rights protests and the presidential election. ABC, CBS, and NBC, meanwhile, have more reruns on the summer schedule; the coronavirus has suspended most TV productions; and viewers are being lured away by streaming services and on-demand Hollywood movies.

But the Fox News ratings also demonstrate the size and resilience of America’s audience for pro-Trump opinion, and the loyalty of Fox News viewers who shrug off the controversies that routinely swirl around the network.

“Massive news events that conservatives view through a highly partisan lens are driving the ratings, and none of the controversies really land with loyal Fox News viewers,” said Nicole Hemmer, a scholar at Columbia University and a historian of American conservative media.

Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chairman of Fox News’s parent company, bragged on an earnings call last week about the network’s “astronomical” ratings. He also said its ad revenue was up from a year ago — a reminder that Fox News, for all the flak it takes from critics, politicians and the advertisers that fled Mr. Carlson, remains an unrivaled profit engine for the Murdoch empire.

Complaints that Fox News prime-time hosts downplayed the coronavirus — and, in the case of Laura Ingraham, encouraged the use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug shown to be useless, and even dangerous, for Covid-19 patients — made little difference.

“The belief that hydroxychloroquine is something between a therapeutic and a miracle cure is wildly popular in conservative media, especially talk radio,” Ms. Hemmer said. “Tucker Carlson’s controversies have never really hurt his ratings, though they have cost him advertisers.”

Two days stood out when Fox News ratings fell significantly: the funerals of George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died after a police officer pinned him to the ground during a routine stop, and Representative John Lewis, the towering civil rights figure.

Like its rivals CNN and MSNBC, Fox News carried the memorial services live. During Mr. Floyd’s funeral, viewership on all three networks dipped. On both occasions, the drop in Fox News’s audience was stark, down to numbers more typically seen during overnight hours. (CNN and Mediaite previously reported on the ratings dips.)

Over all, viewers have shown a strong appetite for news on politics, public health and natural disasters.

The evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC are notching their biggest audiences in years. David Muir’s “World News Tonight” on ABC has been a standout: In July, its episodes were the top 18 telecasts across all of broadcast and cable television, drawing more viewers than usual summertime ratings leaders like NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

All three of the network newscasts, which air at 6:30 p.m., draw more viewers than Fox News’s prime-time shows, with Mr. Muir more than doubling Mr. Hannity’s average in July.

Cable channels define prime-time as 8 to 11 p.m., but the Big Three broadcasters include the 7 p.m. Sunday slot in their average prime-time audience counts. That is when “60 Minutes” airs on CBS — another news show that is hugely popular with viewers — and the broadcast networks’ definition of prime time allowed CBS to eke out a win against Fox News in June and July.

But Fox News was the king of 8 to 11 p.m., in part because conservative viewers have few options for right-wing political commentary. Smaller networks like Newsmax and One America News have tried to siphon off viewers but lag far behind.

MSNBC, whose liberal prime time is an ideological inverse to Fox News, has increased its audience from a year ago. But Rachel Maddow, once neck and neck with Mr. Hannity at 9 p.m., has fallen behind all three of Fox News’s prime-time stars in total viewers. Ms. Ingraham, who appears in the less desirable 10 p.m. slot, has drawn more viewers than Ms. Maddow for many months.

Fox News won praise this summer thanks to several news-making interviews with President Trump, including Chris Wallace’s grilling on “Fox News Sunday” and an interview with Harris Faulkner in which Mr. Trump struggled to address racial grievances. Even Mr. Trump’s June forum with Mr. Hannity yielded headlines when the president could not name a policy priority for a second term.

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Credit…Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

But the network’s critics say the language of its prime-time hosts can be reckless. Mr. Carlson has faced a particular backlash since Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in late May sparked nationwide demonstrations for civil rights.

Major advertisers, including the Walt Disney Company, T-Mobile and Poshmark, boycotted his program as Mr. Carlson denounced the protesters as violent anarchists. Later, the host called Senator Tammy Duckworth, a wounded veteran, a “moron” and questioned her patriotism. In recent days, Mr. Carlson called former President Barack Obama a “greasy politician” and wondered if Mr. Floyd’s death had been caused by drug use rather than being pinned to the ground by a police officer.

Mr. Carlson’s ratings have never been higher. And based on Mr. Murdoch’s telling, the boycott had little effect on Fox News’s bottom line. Mr. Carlson’s show has virtually no major sponsors, but many ads were redistributed to other programs on the network. Fox News also continues to make a fortune in so-called carriage fees, the money paid by cable and satellite providers to keep the network in their lineups.

Fox News vigorously defends itself from critics who say its news coverage is biased or its commentators are extreme. When a writer for Mr. Carlson, Blake Neff, resigned in July because of racist and sexist messages he had posted in an online forum, Fox News’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, publicly denounced his conduct as “abhorrent.” Mr. Carlson issued a halfhearted mea culpa, saying Mr. Neff’s posts were “wrong” but also warning that his critics would be “punished.”

Mr. Murdoch was made aware of Mr. Carlson’s on-air remarks before the broadcast, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, which was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.

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Credit…MSNBC

CBS remains neck-and-neck with Fox News in the 8 to 11 p.m. slot, and could still take the summer crown.

On Wednesday, however, CBS aired what should have been a major draw: the two-hour season premiere of the reality show “Big Brother,” a rare new episode amid a raft of summer reruns.

“Big Brother” was seen by an average of 3.7 million live viewers. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” lured 3.9 million and “Hannity” just shy of four million — the most-watched telecast of the night.

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James Murdoch Resigns From News Corp

James Murdoch wants the world to know he is out of the family business.

Once considered a potential successor to Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Murdoch on Friday resigned from the board of the newspaper publisher News Corp, severing his last corporate tie to his father’s global media empire.

“My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions,” Mr. Murdoch, 47, wrote in his resignation letter, which News Corp disclosed in a filing shortly after the close of business on Friday.

The two sides began discussing Mr. Murdoch’s departure from the News Corp board earlier this year, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

But his terse resignation note belied the behind-the-scenes drama that has brought Mr. Murdoch to this point in his life and career. And it widened the schism that has emerged between James and his 89-year-old father and his older brother, Lachlan, once a dynastic triumvirate that for years held sweeping influence over the world’s cultural and political affairs.

A political outlier in his conservative-leaning family, James Murdoch has sought to reinvent himself as an independent investor with a focus on causes more closely associated with liberals, like environmentalism, which he and his wife, Kathryn Murdoch, have long championed.

He has also taken public stands against President Trump, who has counted Fox News, a prime Murdoch asset, among his closest media allies.

Weeks ago, James and his wife jointly contributed more than $1 million to a fund-raising committee for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. And in February, as wildfires raged across Australia — his father’s birthplace — Mr. Murdoch issued a rebuke of his own family’s media properties, criticizing how Murdoch publications have covered climate change.

Such public gestures came after a period when James Murdoch’s hopes of succeeding his father at the helm of a worldwide empire had been all but extinguished.

He had already departed the Fox Corporation, the family’s television and entertainment arm, which was mostly dismantled after his family transferred many of its assets to The Walt Disney Company in a blockbuster sale that was completed last year.

His last formal link to the family business was through News Corp, which publishes influential broadsheets like The Wall Street Journal as well as powerful tabloids, including The Sun of London and The New York Post. The company also oversees several other papers in Britain and publications in Australia.

The London-born, Harvard-educated Mr. Murdoch remains a beneficiary of his family’s trust, meaning he will continue to financially benefit from the profits of Rupert Murdoch’s news and information assets.

And although his resignation letter cited “certain editorial content,” Mr. Murdoch did not speak specifically about Fox News, the hugely profitable cable channel where prime-time hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham openly cheerlead for Mr. Trump.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Murdoch declined to comment further on the reasons for his departure, saying the letter “speaks for itself.”

Rupert, who holds the title of executive chairman at News Corp, and Lachlan Murdoch, the co-chairman, said in a joint statement on Friday: “We’re grateful to James for his many years of service to the company. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

James Murdoch’s drift from his family began in earnest during the early part of the Trump era, around the time Lachlan was consolidating power and becoming seen more widely as their father’s preferred successor.

There had been discussions about James Murdoch taking a powerful new role at Disney after the completion of the Fox sale, but those talks came to nothing. His 48-year-old brother was named the executive chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, which includes Fox News, Fox Business and the Fox sports networks.

James Murdoch was the chief executive of 21st Century Fox from 2015 until it was sold to Disney, and he netted $2 billion from the sale. He opened his own investment firm and named it Lupa Systems. (In Roman mythology, Lupa is the wolf goddess who nurtured Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who became the founders of Rome.)

The firm specializes in early stage start-ups and has focused on sustainability projects, extending efforts that Mr. Murdoch made at Sky, the European satellite giant that was formerly part of the Murdoch empire, and his financial support of the National Geographic Society’s endowment fund.

Mr. Murdoch has also taken a starkly different tack with his media investments. In October, he bought a small stake in Vice Media, the irreverent — and decidedly liberal — news brand focused on youth and entertainment. He has been less interested in traditional media businesses.

In August, Mr. Murdoch led a consortium of investors to buy a controlling stake in Tribeca Enterprises, which owns the Tribeca Film Festival as well as a production studio. He also put money into Artists, Writers & Artisans, a new comics publisher founded by former Marvel executives.

In 2011, Mr. Murdoch was a chief figure in the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of News of the World, one of the Murdochs’ flagship properties, and strained his relationship with his father. At the time, Mr. Murdoch was in charge of the family’s holdings across Europe, including the British newspapers that were behind the hacks.

Called before a Parliamentary committee investigating the matter, he was confronted with an email that appeared to show his knowledge of the hacking; Mr. Murdoch said he had not read the entire email chain. The committee chided James and his father for “willful blindness” about the company’s behavior.

The scandal dinged Mr. Murdoch’s credibility in London, and he soon relocated to New York to help run his father’s businesses there, where he focused on the Fox television empire and made investments in digital ad technology.

This latest twist in the Murdoch saga is likely to show up in the myriad pop culture products that depict the family’s corporate and personal dramas. The 2019 film “Bombshell” portrayed the Murdoch brothers pushing out Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, after revelations of sexual harassment and abuse at the network. In Britain, a new BBC documentary series, “The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty,” has offered a searing review of the family’s exploits.

Perhaps best known is the HBO series “Succession,” which chronicles a Murdoch-like media family led by an aging patriarch who pits his children against one another, sometimes in cruel ways. Asked in an email exchange last year if he was a fan of the show, James Murdoch pleaded ignorance.

“I’ve never watched it,” he wrote.

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.