The announcement that News Corp. is dividing into two companies - one that contains its publishing and news divisions, and one that houses its entertainment and television assets - comes at a time when the corporation has hit a few stumbling blocks. As the phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. costs more News Corp. executives their reputations and their careers, this move might be seen as a way of separating and protecting their more valuable entertainment properties from a PR, legal and financial firestorm not yet under control.
Rupert Murdoch - who will be chair of both companies - has protested that this move has no connection to the scandal. However, the revelations of illegal and unethical acts have already cost the company one significant acquisition in the U.K., and Murdoch may see a future strategy of "divide and conquer," by working through two fronts to expand his media empire.
Or it might be a nod to the financial reality of media. In an increasingly digital world, publishing houses are grasping for a clear future. Perhaps more importantly, in an increasingly entertainment-driven world, news organizations are becoming obsolete. The print and news dinosaurs are now housed in one ranch, where their more challenging fates won't affect the fortunes of their film and television neighbors.
Either way, one result of this split is an easy set-up for a progressive punchline: At least Fox News is now where it belongs - in the world of entertainment.
Fox "News" isn't what one would consider a news channel. It's more of a propaganda arm for the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and a sanctuary for failed and aspiring GOP candidates to collect a paycheck before their next campaign. It has been a proud proponent of the growth of the Tea Party, a platform for the birther crusades, and a source of reliably right-wing pressure on the overall news cycle.
Fox's success as a purported news outlet has two particularly damaging effects. One is that it feeds conservative tropes into mainstream conversation. The other is that it misinforms and misleads its viewers. Americans who rely on Fox as their primary source of daily news coverage consistently rank less-informed that their fellow citizens who rely on PBS, public radio, the network news and even The Daily Show.
Fortunately, the perception of Fox has shifted over the past decade. Robert Greenwald's film OutFOXed played an early part in making the case that Fox wasn't just unlikable, but downright untrustworthy. Since then, the campaign to tell the truth about Fox and Murdoch has expanded beyond liberal columnists to campaigns aimed at specific hosts, policies and advertisers, including the effort that pushed Glenn Beck from the air.
In 2007, progressive organizers compelled the Democratic candidates to refuse invitations to a Fox-hosted debate in Nevada. In 2009, President Obama granted a round of morning interviews with multiple stations - choosing a Spanish-speaking program over Fox as his final stop.
Some critics have taken the fight onto Fox itself, including comedian-activist Lee Camp, who appeared on Fox & Friends and, live on-air, called them "a parade of propaganda, a festival of ignorance." He hasn't been invited back.
Moving Fox to News Corp.'s entertainment division doesn't actually signal any new direction. It's just a corporate reshuffling, not an acknowledgment that Fox News got out of the TV news business years ago.
But it is a moment when the public will be discussing Murdoch and his political influence, and an opportunity to keep holding Fox accountable for the role it plays in deforming our public discourse. And it does give fun fodder to the assertion of many of Fox's detractors: Fox is there to scare you, Fox is there to distract you, but Fox isn't actually there to educate or inform you about the world.