04 July 2024


The Sun

When Donald Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to conceal his hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, the next day’s newspaper headlines were almost unanimous: “GUILTY”. The exception was the New York Post: of all the major US newspapers, the Post was the only one to criticise the verdict, and its front page headline on 31st May was “INJUSTICE”.

The Post’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, supported Trump’s presidency, albeit through gritted teeth: he was quoted calling Trump a “fucking idiot” in Michael Wolf’s Fire and Fury. Murdoch’s Fox News acted as a Trump mouthpiece, even knowingly broadcasting false conspiracy theories about ‘rigging’ the 2020 election. Tucker Carlson, one of Fox’s highest-profile presenters, dismissed Trump in private—as revealed in emails disclosed before the Dominion Voting Systems defamation trial—yet endorsed him on the air.

After the 2022 midterms, Murdoch seemed to distance himself from Trump. The Post ridiculed him as “TRUMPTY DUMPTY” on its 10th November 2022 front page. Six days later, it denied Trump what he craves most—publicity—by relegating his declaration that he was running for re-election to a single line at the bottom of the page: “FLORIDA MAN MAKES ANNOUNCEMENT”.

New York Post New York Post

Yet Trump continues to dominate the Republican party, hence the Post’s recent olive branch “INJUSTICE” headline. Murdoch is motivated by profit and political influence: the ‘Trump bump’ (the increase in clicks and subscribers caused by Trump news coverage) is hard to resist, and there’s an increasing likelihood of Trump winning this year’s US election. (Trump’s CNN debate with Joe Biden on 28th March was disastrous for Biden.)

In the UK, The Sun—also owned by Murdoch—has backed the winning party in every election since 1979, giving it a long-standing reputation for influencing public opinion. But the reality is that Murdoch knows which way the wind is blowing, and The Sun switches its allegiances accordingly, reflecting the prevailing mood rather than manipulating it.

The Sun endorsed the Conservatives in the 1979, 1983, 1987, 2010, 2015, 2017, and 2019 elections, and in each case the party had a significant lead in the opinion polls. After much effort by Tony Blair, he received The Sun’s endorsement in the run-up to the 1997 election—the 18th March 1997 headline was “THE SUN BACKS BLAIR”—but by that point Labour’s victory was already a foregone conclusion. Similarly, The Sun backed Blair and Labour in 2001 and 2005 as the party was ahead in the polls.

The Sun The Sun

After the 1992 election, The Sun famously took credit for the Conservative victory with the headline “IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT” (11th April 1992). Exceptionally, the paper had endorsed the Conservatives despite Labour’s lead in the opinion polls, but the self-congratulatory headline was hardly justified. Labour’s lead was very slight, and pollsters are aware that Conservative voters are generally less likely to admit their voting preference. Unlike 1997—and 2024—there wasn’t an overwhelming desire for change in 1992.

MRP polls have predicted a historic Labour landslide in today’s election. (The most damning polls for the Tories have been those commissioned by The Daily Telegraph, which predicted a “wipeout” on 15th January and 20th June.) Although the six-week election campaign was disastrous for the Conservatives, it was only on election day itself that The Sun came out in favour of Starmer. The paper’s support is fairly lukewarm, with a headline calling for a “NEW MANAGER” (a football pun) without naming either Labour leader Keir Starmer or the Labour party directly, in contrast to its enthusiastic endorsement of Blair in 1997. Like Blair, Starmer has courted The Sun during the election campaign, but although newspapers still set the news agenda, they don’t determine election outcomes.

Daily Mail

While their influence on party politics is limited, newspapers have more impact on single-issue politics, especially when they cover an issue over an extended period of time. The News of the World’s exposés of Conservative ministers’ sex scandals contrasted with the party’s ‘back to basics’ slogan in the 1990s. The Daily Telegraph’s long-running coverage of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009 revealed significant levels of corruption in public office. There is also a pernicious influence: Euroscepticism founded on what Tim Shipman calls “the ‘straight bananas’ school of reporting from Brussels” (invented by Boris Johnson in the 1990s), leading to regular anti-immigration headlines in the Daily Express and Daily Mail that fuel right-wing populism and xenophobia.

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