The cancellation of an 89th birthday party for Rupert Murdoch highlights a disconnect between his family’s behavior and statements made on air by some Fox commentators.
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.
If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.
It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.
The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.
But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.
Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.
That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.
Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.
For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.
They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”
What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.
Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.
Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.
Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.
Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”
That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.
While cases of gun violence in Iran are extremely rare, domestic violence has been a fact of life for Iranian women throughout history.
The high-profile killing is shocking on its own merits. Yet the way the story unfolded publicly, with the help of real-time coverage by the state broadcaster, has created an utterly grotesque allegory for the excesses of this regime and the way it presents itself to the public.
First, quick review of the key details:
Najafi, 67, an MIT-educated former mayor of Tehran, married Ostad, 35, his second wife, in 2017. He was and is still married to his first wife, the mother of his children.
Polygamy is legal for men in Iran, who can have up to four wives at a time. But even though the practice is tolerated by the religious establishment, many Iranians (especially in the cities) consider it to be intolerable. It’s a maneuver that lecherous older men — especially if they have been caught cheating — make if they want to feign piety. And everyone knows it.
Even so, within the halls of power it’s standard procedure, and it never got in the way of Najafi’s political career. In fact, it was the public revelation of his ongoing extramarital relationship with Ostad that led the two to wed.
By Najafi’s account, he didn’t want to stay in the marriage to Ostad and proposed a divorce, a legal act that men in Iran can demand with ease. Najafi claims that his wife refused, and they continued the marriage unhappily.
But their fights were becoming more frequent and heated. On Tuesday, it all came to a head.
Najafi went to Ostad’s apartment (he lives with his first wife) with a loaded gun. In what he claims was an animated attempt to scare her, he waved the gun at her while saying that he could put an end to all the arguing right then and there.
Next, according to Najafi, “she lunged and me and, well, the gun was ready.”
If the story were to end there, it would be a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of misogyny-fueled domestic violence, polygamy and gun ownership.
What makes the story even more shocking, though, is that we know all these details of the crime because the murderer admitted to them on live television, to a seemingly sympathetic audience of police detectives (who served him tea) and a state media host who gently asked if it might not have been wiser to file a complaint against his untamable wife.
“That would definitely have been better, but the truth is that over the last year I’ve tried different ways of dealing with our issues,” Najafi told the reporter. None of them worked to his satisfaction, apparently, and that “resulted in making me this mistake, and her life ending.”
Not exactly words of sorrow and contrition.
At one point, the television presenter holds the alleged murder weapon — without gloves — and empties the magazine, counting out eight cartridges. “There were thirteen bullets in it,” he says. “Five were fired. Two hit the victim, and three hit the wall.”
It’s clear that there will be no need for a crime-scene investigation. The esteemed suspect’s word is more than enough.
Ordinary Iranians have taken to social media to express their horror over the unfolding drama, but in the twisted life of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, it was just another day.
Forced confessions on IRIB are common, but Najafi’s is a departure from the norm. Nothing about it seemed coerced; if anything, it looked orchestrated — from the bows of deference he was shown by the police officers to the tea they served him. All of this is familiar to Iranians, who know from generations of experience that power means privilege. Even when you admit to murder.
It’s not that Iran’s ruling class is unrepentant — it’s also shockingly oblivious to its own excesses, as encapsulated both by this murder and the state broadcaster’s coverage of it. The depravity that the regime condones only highlights the growing divide between it and the country’s shocked society.
The misogyny and the state-sanctioned polygamy are bad enough. The brazen disregard for a female human life is appalling. But on top of all that, there’s the ingrained hypocrisy of a regime that has executed countless citizens without proper trial yet consistently lets its officials off the hook without even trying to hide it.
With this twisted version of reality TV, Iran’s regime has just demonstrated its shamelessness and depravity, offering a reminder of just how rotten it is.
The former college student said she had been raped three times as an undergraduate at Florida A&M University, twice by students and once by an acquaintance who was on campus regularly.
She withdrew from the university and filed suit, saying that campus officials did not do enough to investigate the claims and protect her from being attacked again and again. As a precaution, she identified herself in public court papers only as S.B.
Her school fired back three times with a demand for the court: Reveal her full name or toss out the case.
For years, students have filed sexual assault complaints under pseudonyms, which allow them to seek justice without shame or fear of being targeted. Universities have generally accepted the practice.
But in two recent lawsuits — S.B.’s case against Florida A&M University and a suit by nine women against Dartmouth College — the schools have demanded that students publicly reveal their identities, going against longstanding legal practice intended to protect plaintiffs in sensitive disputes.
Experts on sexual assault cases say that these demands amount to a newly aggressive stance by universities that face potentially damaging lawsuits, and that they run counter to the spirit of federal civil rights policies. The identities of the women in both cases are known to the university lawyers, but not to the public.
“What you’re seeing in this particular case is real hardball,” said Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who typically represents men accused of sexual assault. “And it’s still not the way most lawyers or schools handle it. They’re a little bit more gracious about protecting someone who was their student.”
On Wednesday, S.B.’s lawyer sent a letter to more than 40 state legislators objecting to the university’s tactics and asking them to investigate the matter.