Loathe or love Rupert Murdoch, he’s defined media for 70 years as he built Fox and News Corp into news, sports, and entertainment juggernauts that drive culture and politics worldwide. Now for the Lachlan Murdoch succession finale: Lachlan, 52, will take over for his dad Rupert, 92. And the incendiary tone at key News Corp properties like Fox News looks like it’ll survive. Here’s what Joe Flint and Amol Sharma at The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp, reported about Rupert’s exit memo this week:
In his memo on Thursday [Rupert] wrote about what he sees as a continuing battle over freedom of speech and thought. “Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class,” he wrote. “Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”
You must admit it’s true media mastery for one of the world’s most elite people to decry the elite.
LACHLAN MURDOCH SUCCESSION WIN. FOR NOW.
For Lachlan, staying aligned with dad got him a big win. For now.
News Corp — the news side of the house — has more clout in the current org structure.
Why? Because the crown jewel assets of Fox — the entertainment side of the house — arguably left when they sold 21st Century Fox to Disney in March 2019.
Lachlan’s brother James took over for Rupert as CEO of 21st Century Fox in June 2015, but lost that role when it sold.
Then, in July 2020 James resigned from the News Corp board. His resignation letter said his resignation was:
“…due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.”
Vanity Fair this May did a deep dive on the Fox & News Corp Murdoch succession, including how HBO’s Succession is wildly accurate and informed by inside information.
One proof point is Logan Roy’s famous newsroom speech while standing on paper boxes being modeled closely after a similar Murdoch stunt when he bought WSJ in 2007.
In the show, Logan died shortly after and the sibling shuffle ensued.
Rupert passing the reign to Lachlan is the first part of the shuffle, but a storm is brewing.
WSJ reports the family has a roughly 40% voting stake in News Corp and about a 44% voting stake in Fox Corp.
More specifically, here’s what Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman said about the James and Lachlan Murdoch succession saga:
Ascending to the throne and holding on to it are different propositions. Lachlan’s future will be decided by his siblings, all of whom sit on the board of the trust that controls the company through a special class of stock. According to sources briefed on the trust’s governance, Murdoch has four votes while Elisabeth, Lachlan, James, and Prudence, Murdoch’s daughter from his first marriage, each have one. Murdoch’s daughters Chloe and Grace from his third marriage, to Wendi Deng, have a financial stake but no voting rights. After Murdoch’s death, his votes will be distributed equally among the four eldest children, the source said. “The question is, when Rupert dies, how are the kids aligned?” said a former News Corp executive.
JAMES MURDOCH SUCCESSION PLOTTING PLAYBOOK
As for the potential future clash on a James and Lachlan Murdoch succession, here are 2 more important insights from Vanity Fair’s Sherman.
First, here’s a recap of how the 21st Century Fox deal and polarization superpowers of News Corp led James to exit on a mythologically pissed off level:
Eleven days before Christmas 2017, Disney and Murdoch announced they had reached a $52.4 billion deal [for Disney to buy 21st Century Fox]. Lachlan would stay on to run Fox News and the family’s remaining assets. In 2019, Lachlan paid a reported $150 million—the highest price in California history—for the 25,000-square-foot Bel Air estate featured in The Beverly Hillbillies. James took his walk-away money and launched a media fund called Lupa Systems, investing in liberal-leaning companies like Vice and Tribeca Enterprises. (Lupa is Italian for “she-wolf” — as in the one that raised brothers Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, before Romulus murdered Remus.)
Second, there’s lots of insider speculation that James is plotting with a goal of ‘destroying’ Fox News:
Two people close to James told me he is biding his time until he and his sisters can wrest control from Lachlan after Rupert is gone. “James, Liz, and Prudence will join forces and take over the company,” a former Fox executive said. Some think James would purge Fox News and transform the network into a center-right alternative to CNN. Others think James would opt to sell Fox News to a private equity firm just so he could be rid of a toxic asset. Inside the network, there’s a visceral fear of what a James-led future would mean. “James sees destroying Fox News as his mission in life,” a senior Fox staffer told me.
So Lachlan taking the reign from Rupert this week was a good season finale, but unlike the HBO show, succession in the Murdoch kingdom is far from over.
The real plot twists may be ahead as Romulus vs. Remus Roman mythology plays out in real life.