From the modest beginnings of an Adelaide newspaper to the towering heights of a global conservative media juggernaut, the Murdoch dynasty, helmed by Rupert Murdoch, has become a force to reckon with in the spheres of media, politics, and business. But as the sun sets on Rupert’s reign, the Fox media empire stands at a crossroads, with Lachlan Murdoch taking the helm and guiding its future direction.
At 92, Rupert Murdoch, the man synonymous with media power and political influence, recently announced his step-down as chairman of both Fox Corporation and News Corp. The man who once defiantly declared he’d leave his empire “feet first” is transitioning to chairman emeritus, allowing his son, Lachlan, to lead.
Rupert’s legacy of intertwining news with entertainment has been nothing short of revolutionary. His platforms, particularly Fox News, have been at the forefront of this unique blend, advancing both his business and political agendas. Many have looked upon Rupert with a mix of awe and trepidation, considering his immense clout.
However, recent years weren’t without challenges for Rupert and his empire. The defamation lawsuit, settled for a whopping $787.5 million, showcased a vulnerable side of the mogul. It was closely followed by the termination of popular Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, contributing to a dip in the channel’s ratings.
The Trump era was particularly tumultuous for the Murdochs. While Fox News significantly boosted Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a rift formed between Rupert and the former president. The turbulent aftermath of the 2020 election further tested their alliance.
Although Fox News remains a dominant force in cable news, there is a palpable shift as Lachlan prepares to navigate these complex waters. He takes charge during intriguing times. Despite an established succession plan, Rupert’s decision to hand over the reins was unexpected to many. Rupert, who once joked about his own immortality after beating cancer, showed no signs of slowing down. This week alone, his active presence at the company’s Los Angeles office was evident.
His continued engagement with media affairs, from the Carlson issue to bringing Emma Tucker into the fold as editor-in-chief of the Journal, showcased a leader deeply intertwined with his empire. But personal challenges, including health setbacks and changes in his marital life, signaled a shift in priorities.
Rupert’s journey from inheriting a singular newspaper to establishing the Fox media empire is awe-inspiring. His acquisitions and ventures, including Fox News, Fox Sports, HarperCollins, and prominent British newspapers, showcased a mogul’s ambition. His decision to become a US citizen in 1985, ensuring his hold over US television stations, was another testament to his strategic foresight.
Yet, like any empire, challenges were aplenty. The 2011 phone-hacking scandal shook the foundations of his British newspapers. This crisis led to the division of News Corp. and the eventual selling of most assets of 21st Century Fox to Disney in 2017. Attempts to reunite the empire’s split entities faced resistance from significant shareholders, marking another chapter in the Murdoch narrative.
Lachlan’s ascension consolidates his executive position across the companies. While Rupert’s voting power in the family trust remains substantial, Lachlan, Elisabeth, James, and Prudence will all have equal voting rights post-Rupert – his youngest children, born to his third wife Wendi Murdoch, will have no voting power – determining the empire’s destiny. Notably, Lachlan and his father share a conservative ideology, as reflected in Rupert’s farewell note emphasizing Lachlan’s commitment to the cause of freedom.
But the empire’s future is far from certain. Speculations hint at James Murdoch’s aspirations to redefine Fox News’s positioning, leaning towards a more center-right stance. Some even predict the potential sale of the company, an idea unthinkable during Rupert’s tenure.
Lynne Vincent, an associate professor at Syracuse University, aptly pointed out the intricacies of this transition: “The longer the tenure of the executive, the trickier and more challenging the transition will be.”
Undoubtedly, Rupert’s imprints on the media landscape are indelible. His alignment, albeit fluctuating, with Trump, and his influence on major political and business decisions, have shaped the contemporary media narrative. As Rupert retreats from active duty, he promises to remain a critical observer, ensuring his legacy endures.
As the Fox media empire stands at this pivotal juncture, Lachlan Murdoch inherits not just a business but a legacy, a dynasty, and most importantly, the responsibility to navigate its future amidst a rapidly evolving media landscape.