Rupert Murdoch, the iconic figure behind Fox Corporation and News Corp., is stepping down from his role as chairman, bringing an end to his illustrious 70-year career. Starting as the publisher of a modest Australian newspaper, he climbed the ladder to become a major force in global conservative media and politics.
In a memo circulated to employees, the 92-year-old Murdoch announced his intention to assume the position of chairman emeritus at both corporations. His son, Lachlan, aged 52, will take over as the sole chair of News Corp., which oversees properties such as the Wall Street Journal and various print and digital media outlets. Lachlan will also continue in his capacities as executive chair and CEO of Fox Corporation.
Rupert Murdoch is credited with revolutionizing the media landscape by blending news and entertainment, setting new standards for the industry. His readiness to employ his media platforms to advance his political and business interests, particularly through Fox News, made him a formidable and polarizing figure, sought after by politicians and business leaders alike.
However, his departure comes after a tumultuous period for his companies. Fox faced a substantial $787.5 million defamation lawsuit settlement earlier this year, stemming from allegations aired on Fox News about the 2020 presidential election. Murdoch’s meandering deposition during the case did not help, and the subsequent firing of popular opinion host Tucker Carlson led to a decline in ratings. Despite a long history of symbiotic relationships with politicians, the Murdochs struggled to navigate their complex ties with former President Donald Trump, with whom Fox News played a pivotal role in 2016 but with whom Rupert Murdoch has soured in recent years.
Nonetheless, Fox News remains the top-rated cable news channel, and a new prime-time lineup has started to reverse some of the post-Carlson viewership losses. Although a family succession plan had been in the works for years, the transition to the next generation came as something of a surprise.
Rupert Murdoch had appeared reluctant to reduce his work commitments, often joking about his own immortality after defeating prostate cancer in 2000. His deep involvement in his media properties was evident in recent months, including the firing of Tucker Carlson and the hiring of Emma Tucker as editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal.
Yet, he faced health issues in recent years, including a serious fall and a bout of COVID-19. In 2022, he divorced his fourth wife, Jerry Hall, and briefly became engaged to another woman before the engagement ended.
Murdoch’s journey began at 21 when he inherited a single newspaper in Adelaide, which he transformed into a global media empire, encompassing Fox News, Fox Sports, the New York Post, HarperCollins, and British newspapers like the Sun and the Times. In 1985, he became a U.S. citizen to comply with regulations restricting ownership of U.S. television stations to American citizens. He revolutionized both the broadcasting and news industries, accumulating an estimated net worth ranging from $8.26 billion to $17.4 billion.
However, his empire faced setbacks, including the phone-hacking scandal involving his British newspapers in 2011, which led to the closure of News of the World, resignations, prison sentences for top executives, and the loss of significant business opportunities. Murdoch’s decision to split News Corp. in two in 2013 separated his British newspapers from his television and movie properties, which became 21st Century Fox. Most of 21st Century Fox was sold to Disney in 2017, primarily due to differences between his sons, Lachlan and James, regarding the company’s future.
While Murdoch had hoped to reunite his empire, this plan faltered this year after major shareholders rejected it. His retirement secures Lachlan Murdoch’s leadership position in both companies. However, James Murdoch’s more centrist politics may lead to future debates within the family and potentially an effort to reposition Fox News as a more center-right outlet.
Murdoch’s legacy is indelibly intertwined with the far-right politics associated with Trump and the opinion hosts on Fox News who supported him. Despite never being a full-throated Trump supporter, Murdoch found mutual benefit in their relationship. But as the 2020 election approached, tensions arose due to Murdoch’s disapproval of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, leading to a rift that culminated in Trump’s criticism of Fox News.
Documents revealed that Murdoch and other top executives harbored resentment toward Trump, both before and after the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Murdoch expressed his desire to “make Trump a non person,” and efforts were made to distance the network from Trump.
Despite his retirement, Murdoch intends to stay closely connected to his media properties, continuing to monitor broadcasts and offer insights. His departure marks the end of an era, leaving the future of his media empire in the hands of the next generation and potentially paving the way for new directions in conservative media.