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Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Lawyer Behind the Throne at Fox

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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 discovered that somebody was studying all their emails.

And never simply anybody: Viet Dinh, the Fox Company’s chief authorized officer and shut buddy of Fox’s chief government, Lachlan Murdoch, had introduced on a crew of legal professionals to analyzethe potential improper use of Fox information” by high twenty first Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney whereas the phrases had been nonetheless being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman stated. The studio’s president, Peter Rice, and the corporate’s normal counsel, Gerson Zweifach, protested that they had been merely conducting regular transition planning — and that Mr. Dinh was being so paranoid he may blow up the transaction.

The episode didn’t scuttle the deal. However the beforehand unreported battle between the studio executives and Mr. Dinh, a sociable and relentless Republican lawyer who was the chief architect in 2001 of the antiterrorism laws generally known as the Patriot Act, presents a uncommon glimpse into the opaque energy construction of Rupert Murdoch’s world. The nonagenarian mogul workouts immense energy, by means of Information Corp and the Fox Company, in driving a world wave of right-wing populism. However fundamental parts of how his media corporations run stay shrouded in thriller.

Within the case of the Fox Company, the questions of who’s in cost and what the long run holds are significantly hazy. The corporate, minus its studio, is now a midsize TV firm adrift in a panorama of giants like Disney and AT&T that management all the pieces from mobile phone networks to streaming platforms, movie and tv. Fox’s earnings are dominated by Fox Information. Lachlan Murdoch’s extra liberal brother, James, who now not holds an operational position within the household companies, has made clear he’d prefer to see a change.

And because the studio bought, an individual who is aware of Lachlan Murdoch stated, Los Angeles has turn into a much less hospitable place to him and his household. In case you’re a studio boss with actors and administrators on payroll, Hollywood can overlook your embarrassing right-wing cable pursuits. However after the Disney sale, and after the Jan. 6 Capitol rebel, Mr. Murdoch risked changing into a social pariah. James Murdoch didn’t assist when he complained to The Monetary Instances about “retailers that propagate lies to their viewers.”

Final month, Lachlan Murdoch moved his household to Sydney, Australia, an unlikely base for a corporation whose important belongings are American. The transfer has intensified the notion — heightened when he stood by as Fox Information hosts misinformed their viewers about Covid-19 final 12 months — that Mr. Murdoch doesn’t have a decent grip on the reins. The corporate takes pains to rebut that notion: The Fox spokeswoman informed me that Mr. Murdoch is so dedicated that he has adopted a nocturnal way of life, working midnight to 10 a.m. Sydney time. (She additionally stated it might be “false and malicious” to counsel that Mr. Dinh is exercising operational management over Fox’s enterprise models.) It’s such a disorienting scenario 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.

However Mr. Dinh, 53, was able to step in, and certainly has been seen internally as the corporate’s energy heart since earlier than Mr. Murdoch headed throughout the globe. Mr. 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 requested him to each fill a seat on the corporate’s board and to be godfather to his son. (“He couldn’t discover another Catholics,” Mr. Dinh joked to The New York Observer in 2006.)

Two former Fox workers and one present and one former Fox Information worker aware of his position painted him because the omnipresent and decisive proper hand of a chief government who just isn’t significantly hands-on. (They spoke solely on the situation they not be named as a result of Fox retains a decent grip on its public relations.) Whereas Mr. Dinh just isn’t working 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 job in Fox’s drive to accumulate and companion its means into the worldwide on-line playing business.

In a current interview with the authorized author David Lat — headlined “Is Viet Dinh the Most Highly effective Lawyer in America?” — Mr. Dinh known as options on this column and in The Monetary Instances that he’s greater than a humble in-house counsel “flat-out false.”

“To ascribe any position to me apart from my day job, which is overseeing authorized, regulatory and authorities affairs, just isn’t solely false, it might imply I’ve much more time than I truly do,” he informed Mr. Lat in his Authentic Jurisdiction publication. “Lachlan employed me for what may be very a lot a full-time job, which I can barely handle to do with 24 hours within the day.”

However 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.

Mr. Dinh, who declined by means of the corporate spokeswoman to be interviewed, is a shocking determine to play a central position overseeing essentially the most highly effective megaphone of the Trump motion. He’s a part of the tight, elite group of conservative legal professionals who largely disliked Donald J. Trump’s bombast and disdain for the legislation — he’s stated to frequently deride the previous president in non-public — although they appreciated his judicial appointments and another insurance policies. And Mr. 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 informed VietLife journal that he labored jobs together with “cleansing bogs, busing tables, pumping fuel, selecting berries, fixing vehicles” to assist his household make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Regulation Faculty. As a scholar, he wrote a highly effective Instances Op-Ed about Vietnamese refugees — together with his sister and nephew — stranded in Hong Kong. The piece helped win them refugee standing, and finally allowed them to immigrate to america.

Mr. Dinh arrived with the conservative politics of many refugees from Communism, and adopted a pipeline from a Supreme Courtroom clerkship with Sandra Day O’Connor to a job within the congressional investigations of Invoice Clinton within the Nineties.

He was assistant lawyer normal for authorized coverage on 9/11, and he was “the fifth likeliest individual” to wind up quarterbacking what would turn into the Patriot Act, stated his previous buddy and colleague Paul Clement, who at the moment represents Fox in defamation lawsuits introduced by two election expertise corporations. Mr. Dinh “led the trouble to drag all of it collectively, bundle it, current it to the Hill and get it handed,” stated a former Bush White Home homeland safety adviser, Ken Wainstein. The bundle of laws reworked the American safety state, vastly increasing home surveillance and legislation enforcement powers. It allowed the F.B.I. to conduct secret and intrusive investigations of individuals and teams swept in by an expanded definition of terrorism.

Mr. Dinh was typically talked about on the time as an excellent younger lawyer who may simply wind up the primary Asian-American on the Supreme Courtroom. He was additionally notably image-conscious, and “labored the media like loopy,” recalled Jill Abramson, a former Instances Washington bureau chief and later government editor. He’s additionally a grasp Washington networker whose relationships cross get together traces. His greatest faculty buddy is a Democratic former U.S. lawyer, Preet Bharara. By means of the pandemic, Mr. Dinh left chipper feedback on different legal professionals’ job bulletins on LinkedIn.

Mr. Dinh left authorities for personal observe throughout President George W. Bush’s first time period, and based and bought a high-end Washington legislation agency, Bancroft. He developed a repute as a well-connected workaholic, and a man who can be up for a drink at lunch.

He’s not the type of boss who fearful about his workers burning out. His view was that “the much less that he has to consider the place his chauffeur is, the extra work he can get completed,” stated a former assistant, Lindsey Shea, who additionally described him as a loyal mentor.

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 the previous Home speaker Paul Ryan becoming a member of the corporate’s board in 2019. And he constructed his personal secretive political operation on the Fox Company, hiring a high Republican opposition researcher, Raj Shah, to watch on-line criticism of the corporate and develop methods for countering it.

Now, Mr. Dinh finds himself within the unusual place of a lot of Rupert Murdoch’s high lieutenants: He’s paid like a chief government, and fills a lot of the bigger strategic position that comes with that job. He additionally has the type of leverage you want in a household enterprise, a private relationship with Lachlan Murdoch that allowed him to tackle Mr. Rice, who’s himself the son of a detailed Rupert Murdoch ally. However Mr. Dinh continues to be working for a enterprise dominated by the necessity to comply with Mr. Trump and Fox’s viewers wherever they lead, lest they be overtaken by networks additional to the precise, like Newsmax. And the household finally retains management.

And Mr. Dinh’s personal agenda might be laborious to divine. Within the interview with Mr. Lat, he largely repeated Fox Information speaking factors in regards to 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, regardless that the community subsequently fired the political analysts who most angered Mr. Trump.

“There isn’t a higher historic report of Fox Information’s glorious journalism than to see how the previous president tweeted towards Fox,” Mr. Dinh stated.

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