Attorney General William Barr called on Rupert Murdoch to “muzzle” Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News senior judicial analyst who has been highly critical of President Donald Trump, according to a new book by CNN media reporter Brian Stelter. The book, which dives into the relationship between Trump and Fox News, is set to be released Tuesday but the Guardian obtained a copy.
Barr and Murdoch met at the billionaire media mogul’s New York home in October 2019. Journalists reported on the meeting at the time and there was lots of speculation on what the two discussed considering it took place amid the impeachment inquiry. Stelter claims in his upcoming book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, that during this meeting the two talked about several issues, including media consolidation and criminal justice reform. But the meeting “was also about Judge Andrew Napolitano,” Stelter writes in the book.
Trump was once a big fan of Napolitano, who reportedly told friends the president had even considered him for a spot on the Supreme Court. But the New Jersey superior court judge who joined Fox News in 1998 later became a staunch Trump critic and he said that the way Trump tried to use the power of his office to get Ukraine’s leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden amounted to “both criminal and impeachable behavior.” When Trump was acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial, Napolitano called it a “personal victory” for the president but “a legal assault on the Constitution.”
Stelter, citing an unnamed source, says the president “was so incensed by the judge’s TV broadcasts that he had implored Barr to send Rupert a message in person … about ‘muzzling the judge’. [Trump] wanted the nation’s top law enforcement official to convey just how atrocious Napolitano’s legal analysis had been.” Although Barr’s plea to Murdoch “carried a lot of weight,” Stelter claims that “no one was explicitly told to take Napolitano off the air.” Napolitano did appear to suffer some consequences for his anti-Trump views though as he “found digital resources allocated elsewhere, saw a slot on a daytime show disappear, and was not included in coverage of the impeachment process,” notes the Guardian.
Napolitano apparently believed it was producers who had moved to keep him off the air as much as possible. And while it’s true that some employees “justified the benching of the judge by claiming that viewers hated him,” writes Stelter, some anchors also didn’t want anything to do with him and his criticism of the president. Despite these roadblocks, Napolitano has continued to appear on Fox News and publish opinion columns.