Rupert Murdoch is retiring from the Fox and News Corporation boards, the company announced on Thursday morning, making his son Lachlan the sole executive in charge of the global media empire he built from a small local newspaper concern in Australia starting 70 years ago.
The elder Murdoch will become chairman emeritus of the two companies, the company said in a release.
Murdoch, 92, had shown no intention to step down or even slow down — even after he named Lachlan as the operating heir to his business empire in 2019, when he sold his vast entertainment holdings to the Walt Disney Company.
Even now, in his emeritus status, he will continue to offer counsel, Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement.
Rupert Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox. “In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas," Murdoch wrote. “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest.”
But the announcement was nonetheless potentially epochal, marking at least the formal end to an active career during which Murdoch built the most important and politically influential media empire on the planet. His companies, infused with a brand of Right-wing populism, have amassed the power to shape, and at times make or break, presidents and prime ministers.
Murdoch built that empire across three continents, helping to shift norms and tastes in journalism, politics and popular culture throughout the English-speaking world. Using a self-professed pirate’s sensibility, he acted with a willingness to move fast and break things — before that became trendy.
Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and American politics since its start in 1996, making Murdoch a hero to some and a pariah to others. The 24-hour network transferred the power and energy of political talk radio to television. Within six years, it outrated CNN and MSNBC.
The tactics also drew legal trouble and a steady stream of condemnation from critics and even onetime allies, especially after stars of his Fox News Channel embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s 2020 election lies — leading to a $787.5 million settlement with the company at the centre of so much of it, Dominion Voting. Shortly after, Fox fired its most popular personality, Tucker Carlson.
Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network, the first to successfully challenge the Big Three of ABC, CBS and NBC. He is the owner of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
There was no precipitating event for the announcement, beyond the obvious fact that even the healthiest 92-year-old is in his twilight years. Ironically, it is the week author and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff is publishing a book, The End of Fox News, speculating on what will happen to the network when the patriarch is gone.
Lachlan Murdoch, 52, said in a statement the company released on Thursday morning: “We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted.”
The elder Murdoch’s retirement in a sense formalises the arrangement he had already put in place after the Disney sale, which made his son the day-to-day executive in charge of the two companies at the heart of the Murdoch empire — Fox Corporation and News Corporation.
Although striking a different visage than his father — with tattoos and trademark leather boots — Lachlan Murdoch has so far represented continuity for the family companies.
But with his announced retirement, Murdoch was also further solidifying the company beneath his chosen business heir ahead of a looming, family battle for control of the empire after Murdoch’s eventual death.
Under the terms of the family trust that controls the family’s stake in the empire, each of Murdoch’s four eldest children — Lachlan Murdoch, Elisabeth Murdoch, James Murdoch and Prudence Murdoch — will have an equal vote on its future following his death; until then, Murdoch holds the controlling vote.
Murdoch and his family, particularly children James, Lachlan, Elisabeth and Prudence, were said to be the model of the HBO show Succession.
New York Times News Service and AP/PTI