Australian news mogul Rupert Murdoch stunned the media world on Thursday when he announced his resignation as chairman of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, and News Corp. announced. He will be succeeded by his eldest son Lachlan, who will be sole chairman of News Corp. and will remain in his position as chairman and CEO of Fox Corp., the company said in a statement Press release.
“I never thought he would do it,” said a former Fox executive said Vanity Fair of Rupert’s decision.
But as Murdoch, 92, steps away from both companies, his influence on the conservative media landscape is expected to continue through Lachlan, who experts say is even more ideologically right-wing than his father. Rupert will continue to serve as Chairman Emeritus in the meantime.
“Our companies are in great shape, as am I,” he wrote in an internal memo to employees. “Our capabilities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and I plan to be here to be a part of it.”
But despite Rupert’s reassurances to employees, his companies face enormous challenges simply due to the continued decline of cable news and print business. Meanwhile, Fox itself has been the subject of lawsuits over its coverage of the 2020 presidential election.
Murdoch said he expected to remain involved in the daily “competition of ideas” and continue to comment on the proposals.
“I will follow our broadcasts with a critical eye, read our newspapers, websites and books with great interest and turn to you with thoughts, ideas and advice,” Murdoch told staff.
Murdoch’s decision to make a formal announcement about his transition to his new role at the start of the 2024 election cycle has raised questions.
Lachlan himself had done it before, after all said his father would “never” retire. And even now, Rupert is at pains to convey that he has no plans to fade into the background.
Jack Shafer, senior media reporter at Politico, makes the case for why we should ignore Thursday’s announcement in an article titled “The Rupert Murdoch Retirement Myth.”
“The idea that Murdoch would give up power before he dies contradicts everything we have learned about him,” Shafer said writes. “The idea that he would even give up power after that he dies is equally absurd.”
But it is also true that in the last two or three years Murdoch appears to have not been as actively involved in the day-to-day running of the company.
Gabriel Sherman, special correspondent for Vanity Fair, told Brian Stelter said on the magazine’s “Inside the Hive” podcast that “Rupert has been virtually semi-retired for years” and that he rarely sets foot in the office.
If anything, this week’s announcement solidifies Lachlan’s position at the helm of the two companies.
“My father was a strong believer in freedom and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” the elder Murdoch wrote in his note to staff.
Shafer also sees this as the most plausible explanation for the move.
“The announcement only makes sense if he intends to frame it in a way that enhances the status of his chosen heir… so that he can advance it further along the path laid out by Rupert,” Shafer wrote.
Who is Lachlan?
Lachlan Murdoch, 52, is a London-born Princeton graduate who now lives in Sydney. He is believed to be more right-wing than Rupert, which would dispel any wishful thinking that Rupert’s resignation would fundamentally change the character or trajectory of Fox.
Chris Mitchell, a former editor of The Australian newspaper, wrote in his Autobiography “Making Headlines” that “Lachlan’s conservatism is more forceful than that of any Australian politician” and is “usually to the right of his father’s views”.
At the same time, it’s entirely possible that Lachlan won’t stay at the top forever.
What happens if Rupert Murdoch dies?
If Rupert dies, his voting shares in both Fox Corp. as well as to News Corp. consist transmitted to his four eldest children, not all of whom share their father’s conservative ideology.
James Murdoch, for example, famously resigned from the board of Fox Corp. in July 2020. back, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.”
James and his wife Kathryn both supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election and donated $100 million to political groups, including some that support Democratic causes, through their formation during this election cycle.
Tech journalist Kara Swisher, who once worked for the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, predicted that the companies will likely be sold once Rupert dies and that the rest of his children are unlikely to support Lachlan.
Swisher also speculated that billionaire Elon Musk could be a buyer.
Fox’s challenges remain
Fox’s decision to go along with former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election has already cost the network millions of dollars.
Earlier this year, the network reached a last-minute $787.5 settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, a voting technology company, on the day it was set to go to court. Dominion had sued Fox News for defamation for spreading baseless claims that the company helped steal the presidency from Biden.
The juicy agreement saved the conservative network from what was expected to be a hugely embarrassing trial in which high-ranking figures, including Rupert Murdoch himself, would have taken the stand.
The network faces more lawsuits in the future, most notably a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic USA, another voting technology company.
Some have speculated that Rupert may resign in part to avoid having to testify in this case.
As HuffPost’s Paul Blumenthal reported, the company is also at risk of losing broadcast licenses awarded to its local broadcast partners by the Federal Communications Commission.
These challenges, coupled with the continued decline of the cable television model, portend a difficult future for the network.
Rupert’s legacy at Fox
Rupert Murdoch’s decision to hire Roger Ailes to create a cable television network, launched in 1996 along the lines of talk radio and hosts like Rush Limbaugh, changed America forever.
“While CNN brought international coverage and attention to its viewers News “Part of its name is very serious, Fox News has eagerly perpetuated the culture wars and reshaped American political discourse in its own image,” says Slate’s Justin Peters writes.
Peters argues that Lachlan’s rise will not change Fox because “he is, after all, his father’s son.”
Sherman also reflected on what Rupert Murdoch’s reign at the top of his media empire meant to him on a personal level.
“Everything he touched was destroyed,” Sherman told Inside the Hive. “He got the power he wanted, but at the expense of his family and the entire world.”