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 research “the potential improper use of Fox knowledge” by prime twenty first Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney whereas the phrases had been nonetheless being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman mentioned. 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 often called the Patriot Act, provides a uncommon glimpse into the opaque energy construction of Rupert Murdoch’s world. The nonagenarian mogul workout routines immense energy, via Information Corp and the Fox Company, in driving a world wave of right-wing populism. However primary components of how his media firms run stay shrouded in thriller.
Within the case of the Fox Company, the questions of who’s in cost and what the longer term holds are notably 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 income are dominated by Fox Information. Lachlan Murdoch’s extra liberal brother, James, who not holds an operational function 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 mentioned, Los Angeles has change into a much less hospitable place to him and his household. Should 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 revolt, Mr. Murdoch risked turning into a social pariah. James Murdoch didn’t assist when he complained to The Monetary Occasions about “shops that propagate lies to their viewers.”
Final month, Lachlan Murdoch moved his household to Sydney, Australia, an unlikely base for a corporation whose predominant 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 yr — that Mr. Murdoch doesn’t have a good grip on the reins. The corporate takes pains to rebut that notion: The Fox spokeswoman advised 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 mentioned it might be “false and malicious” to counsel that Mr. Dinh is exercising operational management over Fox’s enterprise items.) 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.
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 every other Catholics,” Mr. Dinh joked to The New York Observer in 2006.)
Two former Fox workers and one present and one former Fox Information worker conversant in his function painted him because the omnipresent and decisive proper hand of a chief government who just 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.) 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 task in Fox’s drive to accumulate and associate its means into the worldwide on-line playing trade.
In a latest interview with the authorized author David Lat — headlined “Is Viet Dinh the Most Highly effective Lawyer in America?” — Mr. Dinh known as ideas on this column and in The Monetary Occasions that he’s greater than a humble in-house counsel “flat-out false.”
“To ascribe any function 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 really do,” he advised Mr. Lat in his Authentic Jurisdiction publication. “Lachlan employed me for what could be very a lot a full-time job, which I can barely handle to do with 24 hours within the day.”
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However his outsize compensation — $24 million in 2019, and $12 million final yr 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 via the corporate spokeswoman to be interviewed, is a shocking determine to play a central function 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 mentioned to recurrently 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 advised VietLife journal that he labored jobs together with “cleansing bogs, busing tables, pumping gasoline, choosing berries, fixing automobiles” to assist his household make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Regulation Faculty. As a scholar, he wrote a highly effective Occasions 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 the US.
Mr. Dinh arrived with the conservative politics of many refugees from Communism, and adopted a pipeline from a Supreme Court docket clerkship with Sandra Day O’Connor to a task 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 particular person” to wind up quarterbacking what would change into the Patriot Act, mentioned his outdated buddy and colleague Paul Clement, who presently represents Fox in defamation lawsuits introduced by two election expertise firms. Mr. Dinh “led the trouble to tug all of it collectively, bundle it, current it to the Hill and get it handed,” mentioned a former Bush White Home homeland safety adviser, Ken Wainstein. The bundle of laws remodeled 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 usually talked about on the time as a superb younger lawyer who may simply wind up the primary Asian-American on the Supreme Court docket. He was additionally notably image-conscious, and “labored the media like loopy,” recalled Jill Abramson, a former Occasions Washington bureau chief and later government editor. He’s additionally a grasp Washington networker whose relationships cross social gathering traces. His greatest faculty buddy is a Democratic former U.S. lawyer, Preet Bharara. By way of the pandemic, Mr. Dinh left chipper feedback on different legal professionals’ job bulletins on LinkedIn.
Mr. Dinh left authorities for personal apply 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 frightened 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 accomplished,” mentioned a former assistant, Lindsey Shea, who additionally described him as a faithful mentor.
Mr. Dinh’s shut ties to the Murdochs drew criticism when he performed a central function in a nominally impartial investigation into the cellphone 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 prime Republican opposition researcher, Raj Shah, to observe on-line criticism of the corporate and develop methods for countering it.
Now, Mr. Dinh finds himself within the unusual place of lots of Rupert Murdoch’s prime lieutenants: He’s paid like a chief government, and fills a lot of the bigger strategic function 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 remains to be working for a enterprise dominated by the necessity to observe 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 could be exhausting 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 delight at Fox’s fleeting willingness to cross the president final fall, despite the fact that the community subsequently fired the political analysts who most angered Mr. Trump.
“There isn’t a higher historic file of Fox Information’s glorious journalism than to see how the previous president tweeted in opposition to Fox,” Mr. Dinh mentioned.