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The New York Times

The Lawyer Behind the Throne at Fox

LOS ANGELES — In early 2019, because the Murdoch household accomplished the $71 billion sale of twenty first Century Fox to Disney, executives on the film studio realized that somebody was studying all their emails. And not simply anybody: Viet Dinh, the Fox Corp.’s chief authorized officer and shut good friend of Fox’s CEO, Lachlan Murdoch, had introduced on a workforce of attorneys to examine “the potential improper use of Fox data” by high twenty first Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney whereas the phrases have been nonetheless being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman mentioned. The studio’s president, Peter Rice, and the corporate’s common counsel, Gerson Zweifach, protested that they have been merely conducting regular transition planning — and that Dinh was being so paranoid he would possibly blow up the transaction. Sign up for The Morning publication from the New York Times The episode didn’t scuttle the deal. But the beforehand unreported battle between the studio executives and Dinh, a sociable and relentless Republican lawyer who was the chief architect in 2001 of the anti-terrorism laws often called the Patriot Act, provides a uncommon glimpse into the opaque energy construction of Rupert Murdoch’s world. The nonagenarian mogul exercises immense energy, by means of News Corp and the Fox Corp., in driving a world wave of right-wing populism. But primary components of how his media firms run stay shrouded in thriller. In the case of the Fox Corp., the questions of who’s in cost and what the longer term holds are notably hazy. The firm, minus its studio, is now a mid-size TV firm adrift in a panorama of giants like Disney and AT&T that management every part from mobile phone networks to streaming platforms, movie and tv. Fox’s earnings are dominated by Fox News. Lachlan Murdoch’s extra liberal brother, James, who not holds an operational position within the household companies, has made clear he would really like to see a change. And for the reason that studio bought, a person who is aware of Lachlan Murdoch mentioned, Los Angeles has turn into a much less hospitable place to him and his household. If you’re a studio boss with actors and administrators on payroll, Hollywood can overlook your embarrassing right-wing cable pursuits. But after the Disney sale, and after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Murdoch risked changing into a social pariah. James Murdoch didn’t assist when he complained to The Financial Times about “outlets that propagate lies to their audience.” Last month, Lachlan Murdoch moved his household to Sydney, Australia, an unlikely base for an organization whose primary property are American. The transfer has intensified the notion — heightened when he stood by as Fox News hosts misinformed their viewers about COVID-19 final 12 months — that Murdoch doesn’t have a good grip on the reins. The firm takes pains to rebut that notion: The Fox spokeswoman instructed me that Murdoch is so dedicated that he has adopted a nocturnal way of life, working midnight to 10 a.m. Sydney time. (She additionally mentioned it could be “false and malicious” to counsel that Dinh is exercising operational management over Fox’s enterprise models.) It’s such a disorienting state of affairs that one senior Fox worker went as far as to name me final week to ask if I knew something about succession plans. I promised I’d inform him if I figured it out. But Dinh, 53, was prepared to step in, and certainly has been seen internally as the corporate’s energy middle since earlier than Murdoch headed throughout the globe. Dinh’s ascent caps an unlikely flip in his profession that started when he met Lachlan Murdoch at an Aspen Institute occasion in 2003. The Murdoch inheritor later asked him to each fill a seat on the corporate’s board and to be godfather to his son. (“He couldn’t find any other Catholics,” Dinh joked to The New York Observer in 2006.) Two former Fox workers and one present and one former Fox News worker conversant in his position painted him because the omnipresent and decisive proper hand of a CEO who isn’t notably hands-on. (They spoke solely on the situation they not be named as a result of Fox retains a good grip on its public relations.) While Dinh isn’t running day-to-day programming, he manages the political operation of an organization that’s the central pillar of Republican politics, and he’s a key voice on company technique who has performed a task in Fox’s drive to purchase and accomplice its approach into the worldwide on-line playing business. In a latest interview with authorized author David Lat — headlined “Is Viet Dinh the Most Powerful Lawyer in America?” — Dinh referred to as solutions on this column and in The Financial Times that he’s greater than a humble in-house counsel “flat-out false.” “To ascribe any role to me other than my day job, which is overseeing legal, regulatory and government affairs, is not only false, it would mean I have far more time than I actually do,” he instructed Lat in his Original Jurisdiction publication. “Lachlan hired me for what is very much a full-time job, which I can barely manage to do with 24 hours in the day.” But his outsize compensation — $24 million in 2019, and $12 million final 12 months after forgoing his wage for a lot of the pandemic — belies that, as do episodes just like the high-stakes confrontation within the Disney deal and his unusually shut private connection to the Murdoch household. Dinh, who declined by means of the corporate spokeswoman to be interviewed, is a stunning determine to play a central position overseeing probably the most highly effective megaphone of the Trump motion. He’s half of the tight, elite group of conservative attorneys who largely disliked Donald Trump’s bombast and disdain for the regulation — he’s mentioned to often deride the previous president in personal — although they appreciated his judicial appointments and another insurance policies. And Dinh isn’t only a member of that group, however a real star of it. A refugee from Vietnam who arrived on the age of 10, he as soon as instructed VietLife journal that he labored jobs together with “cleaning toilets, busing tables, pumping gas, picking berries, fixing cars” to assist his household make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Law School. As a pupil, he wrote a robust New York Times op-ed about Vietnamese refugees — together with his sister and nephew — stranded in Hong Kong. The piece helped win them refugee standing, and ultimately allowed them to immigrate to the United States. Dinh arrived with the conservative politics of many refugees from communism, and adopted a pipeline from a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to a task within the congressional investigations of Bill Clinton within the Nineties. He was assistant lawyer common for authorized coverage on 9/11, and he was “the fifth likeliest person” to wind up quarterbacking what would turn into the Patriot Act, mentioned his outdated good friend and colleague Paul Clement, who presently represents Fox in defamation lawsuits introduced by two election know-how firms. Dinh “led the effort to pull it all together, package it, present it to the Hill and get it passed,” mentioned a former Bush White House homeland safety adviser, Ken Wainstein. The bundle of laws remodeled the American safety state, vastly increasing home surveillance and regulation enforcement powers. It allowed the FBI to conduct secret and intrusive investigations of folks and teams swept in by an expanded definition of terrorism. Dinh was typically talked about on the time as a superb younger lawyer who might simply wind up the primary Asian American on the Supreme Court. He was additionally notably image-conscious, and “worked the media like crazy,” recalled Jill Abramson, a former Times Washington bureau chief and later govt editor. He’s additionally a grasp Washington networker whose relationships cross celebration strains. His finest faculty good friend is a Democratic former U.S. lawyer, Preet Bharara. Through the pandemic, Dinh left chipper feedback on different attorneys’ job bulletins on LinkedIn. Dinh left authorities for personal follow throughout President George W. Bush’s first time period, and based and bought a high-end Washington regulation firm, Bancroft. He developed a popularity as a well-connected workaholic, and a man who can be up for a drink at lunch. He isn’t the type of boss who anxious about his workers burning out. His view was that “the less that he has to think about where his chauffeur is, the more work he can get done,” mentioned a former assistant, Lindsey Shea, who additionally described him as a faithful mentor. Dinh’s shut ties to the Murdochs drew criticism when he performed a central position in a nominally impartial investigation into the telephone hacking by Murdoch journalists in Britain in 2011. Dinh stepped down from the Fox board to take the authorized job in 2018. He tightened the corporate’s relations to the Republican institution, with former House Speaker Paul Ryan becoming a member of the corporate’s board in 2019. And he constructed his personal secretive political operation on the Fox Corp., hiring a high Republican opposition researcher, Raj Shah, to monitor on-line criticism of the corporate and develop methods for countering it. Now, Dinh finds himself within the unusual place of many of Rupert Murdoch’s high lieutenants: He is paid like a CEO, and fills a lot of the bigger strategic position that comes with that job. He additionally has the type of leverage you need in a household enterprise, a private relationship with Lachlan Murdoch that allowed him to tackle Rice, who’s himself the son of a detailed Rupert Murdoch ally. But Dinh continues to be working for a enterprise dominated by the need to comply with Trump and Fox’s viewers wherever they lead, lest they be overtaken by networks additional to the correct, like Newsmax. And the household finally retains management. And Dinh’s personal agenda may be arduous to divine. In the interview with Lat, he largely repeated Fox News speaking factors concerning the high quality and equity of the community’s protection. He did additionally categorical satisfaction at Fox’s fleeting willingness to cross the president final fall, although the community subsequently fired the political analysts who most angered Trump. “There is no better historical record of Fox News’ excellent journalism than to see how the former president tweeted against Fox,” Dinh mentioned. This article initially appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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