Rupert Murdoch, the powerful and polarizing media mogul, steps down as chairman of Fox

Rupert Murdoch (Fox © Piter 2012)
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Rupert Murdoch, the powerful and controversial mogul who helped transform the modern media landscape over seven decades, is stepping down as chairman of his two family-controlled companies, Fox Corp. and News Corp.

Murdoch, 92, who will be succeeded by his son Lachlan, announced his decision in a note sent to employees Thursday.

“I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News,” the mogul said. “For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles.”


The move is meant to be a firm statement that a succession plan will proceed, with Lachlan Murdoch pushing the influential media companies — owners of politically right-leaning channel Fox News and the Wall Street Journal — forward with their ideological lean.

“My father believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” Murdoch wrote. “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class.”

Lachlan Murdoch shares his father Rupert’s right-wing politics and enthusiasm for the family media empire, leading analysts to believe the son’s corporate direction won’t depart much from what the elder Murdoch set forth.

Sept. 21, 2023

The succession story began six years ago, when Murdoch formulated plans to sell much of his entertainment company, 21st Century Fox, to the Walt Disney Co.

That move, which was finalized in March 2019, left a slimmed-down version of Fox — the Fox broadcast network, sports networks and Fox News.

Murdoch has long made clear that he wanted his eldest son, Lachlan, to run the operation. The Disney deal formalized his desire because the sale also nudged out his youngest son, James, leaving him without a role in the company. James Murdoch is now working on two separate entertainment ventures.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News avoids a potentially embarrassing trial with Dominion Voting Systems over its false reporting on allegations of 2020 election fraud.

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A restructuring of the executive ranks is expected to follow Murdoch’s announcement, according to people inside the company familiar with the plans but not authorized to comment publicly.


The financial markets reacted mildly to the move, with Fox Corp. stock closing the trading day at around $32, up 3%. Shares in News Corp. closed at 19.92, up slightly more than 1%.

Murdoch continues to have voting control over both News Corp. and Fox through his family trust that holds nearly 40% of the voting shares of each company. Murdoch maintains the votes in that trust, and after he dies his votes will be divided among his four oldest children, Lachlan, James, Elisabeth and Prudence. His two youngest daughters, Grace and Chloe, whom he shares with former wife Wendi Deng, have a financial stake, but not voting shares.

Murdoch is said to be in good health but has faced various medical issues in recent years. His note said he will “remain involved every day in the contest of ideas.”

The media baron is known for attending the daily editorial meeting at Fox News, and that is not expected to change with his emeritus role.

But Murdoch has faced a challenging year. Fox Corp. had to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems. The voting software company claimed it was damaged by Fox News repeatedly presenting President Trump’s false charges of fraud in the 2020 election.

The company faces a similar suit from Smartmatic, another voting equipment firm that said it was defamed in Fox News coverage. The suit is scheduled to go to trial in 2025.


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Murdoch’s candid deposition testimony in the Dominion case — he acknowledged that false statements about election fraud were endorsed by on-air talent on his network — were not helpful to the defense.

Attorneys for Fox are trying to keep the Murdochs out of the Smartmatic case, arguing they were not involved in the day-to-day editorial decisions at Fox News.

Smartmatic countered that claim in a court hearing Wednesday, with its attorney J. Erik Connolly likening the Murdochs to Mafia bosses ordering a hit on the voting machine maker in order to pander to Trump supporters and boost Fox News ratings.

Both the Dominion and Smartmatic cases say Fox News was motivated to amplify Trump’s false election fraud claims to keep viewers upset about President Biden’s win from fleeing to upstart right-wing network Newsmax.

The defamation cases are the latest example of what critics believe is a long record of Murdoch and his media outlets contributing to the coarseness and polarization of society.

In the U.S., he is equally loved and reviled for creating Fox News, which has championed conservative causes, including the political career of Trump, and blasted liberals.


Fox News launched in 1996 as a conservative antidote to his rival Ted Turner’s CNN. With its marketing slogan “fair and balanced,” Murdoch’s outlet carved out its pugnacious profile with coverage of President Clinton’s sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.

Over the years, it became a potent platform for Republican politicians to speak to their base in political red states and helped fuel the Tea Party movement, among others.

Fox News — and Murdoch — has managed to survive major scandals over the years. Founding Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes was fired in 2016, after facing sexual harassment allegations that included a lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, who settled for $20 million.

On April 24, a week after the massive settlement with Dominion, Murdoch dumped his star host Tucker Carlson, whose inflammatory comments alienated advertisers and threatened to drive the network deeper into legal trouble.

Fox Corp. has settled the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems, but the company’s troubles are far from over.

April 18, 2023

Despite small inroads made by Newsmax since Trump’s exit from the White House, Fox News remains the dominant choice among the conservative audience and draws a significant number of viewers who identify as Democratic or independent.

Lachlan Murdoch’s ascension is not expected to alter the tone or approach of Fox News, which accounts for around 80% of the profits for Fox Corp.


“Given the strong ideological affinities between Lachlan Murdoch and his father, and given the elder Murdoch’s advisory role as chairman emeritus, I don’t expect a noticeable shift in the company’s editorial positioning or strategic direction,” said Paul Verna, a principal analyst with Insider Intelligence.

Verna noted that the younger Murdoch will have to focus on guiding Fox Corp. into a future that is threatened by the continued erosion of the pay TV environment, as consumers are forgoing cable and satellite subscriptions for streaming video.

Fox News has lost around 20 million subscribers since 2016. Fox television stations, which carry the network’s coverage of NFL football, also depend on subscriber fees for revenues.

While Rupert Murdoch would have been content acquiring more newspapers and TV stations, Lachlan has been more forward-looking. He is a strong champion of Tubi, an ad-supported streaming TV service acquired by Fox Corp. in 2020, that has built an audience and annual revenues of over $1 billion.

While Murdoch’s legacy has been damaged by the Fox News defamation suits and other controversies, his impact on the U.S. media landscape is inescapable.

After building a newspaper empire in the U.K., Murdoch broke the hegemony of ABC, CBS and NBC in the 1980s when he formed a fourth network with Fox, which aired such iconoclastic programs as “The Simpsons” and “The X-Files.” While many members of the Hollywood community abhorred Murdoch’s politics, they thrived under the culture of creative risk-taking that he encouraged.


As a dealmaker, Murdoch may end up being best remembered for getting the Walt Disney Co. to pay $71 billion for his company’s movie and TV studios and their libraries. Murdoch determined that Fox would not be able to compete in the new media landscape that now includes deep-pocketed tech giants such as Amazon and Apple.

As Disney struggles to get its balance sheet in order in a challenging entertainment economy created by streaming, Murdoch has the satisfaction of selling his assets when they were at the peak of their value.