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The End of Rupert’s Reign



Rupert Murdoch famously insisted that he would never retire.

In 1998, when he was already 67 years old, he told an interviewer that if he retired, he would “die pretty quickly.”

Nearly two decades later, in 2015, when Rupert was grooming his son Lachlan to succeed him at Fox, Lachlan said he was well aware that “Rupert’s never retiring.”

So today’s announcement of Murdoch’s new title, chairman emeritus, is the closest step toward retirement that he will likely ever take. The once-feared media mogul, now 92, is stepping down, or up, as it were, to an honorary title, leaving Lachlan as the sole chairman of both Fox Corp and News Corp.

The Murdoch media empire’s conservative bent will not change as a result of the transition. If anything, Lachlan is more conservative than his father, and far more in tune with Trumpism. (The longer-term direction of the network is somewhat murkier, because after Rupert passes from the scene, Lachlan’s three siblings will have their own say in the decisions of the Murdoch Family Trust.)


But this is an epochal moment in media nonetheless. Murdoch’s own newspapers and TV networks certainly think so: Fox News began its 9 a.m. newscast by reading his announcement, and the headline “Rupert Murdoch to Step Down as Chair of Fox, News Corp” dominated The Wall Street Journal’s homepage all morning.

Murdoch’s allies depicted his shift as a semiretirement of sorts, and he told employees that he would still be watching and reading and opining at all hours. “When I visit your countries and companies,” he wrote, flexing his multinational muscles, “you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”

This week, Murdoch was seen on the Fox Corp studio lot in Los Angeles, a short drive from his Bordeaux-style vineyard estate in Bel Air. His movements and political machinations will continue to be tracked by friends and foes alike. But today’s announcement confirms something that his aides will never quite admit out loud: Murdoch is a diminished figure.

The man who, after recovering from prostate cancer a quarter century ago, said, “I’m now convinced of my own immortality,” and insisted today that he remains in “robust health,” no longer inspires either the reverence or the revulsion he once did.

For my forthcoming book, Network of Lies, I spent months combing through the emails and texts unearthed by Dominion Voting Systems in the Dominion v. Fox lawsuit. I was struck by how passive Murdoch seemed, in his missives to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and then–New York Post editor Col Allan. When Fox took on water for telling the truth about Donald Trump’s election loss, then tried to patch the holes in the hull by lying and smearing Dominion, Murdoch acted more like an economy-class passenger than the captain of the ship.

“There was a time when Rupert would say jump and people would say how high,” a longtime Murdoch lieutenant told me. “But not anymore.”

That’s why today’s announcement did not surprise me, despite Murdoch’s earlier protestations about never retiring.


The nonagenarian seldom speaks in public and virtually never gives interviews, so the Dominion legal proceeding was a rare window into his world. When he was deposed for two days in January by the Dominion attorney Justin Nelson, he sounded, well, checked out.

“I’m a journalist at heart,” he said, or, more specifically, a newspaperman, still obsessed with print. “I read my newspapers a lot more than I watch television,” he said. “I don’t watch Fox News enough, or as much as I should.” During the deposition, Murdoch mixed up the names of hosts; said, “I don’t talk to Sean [Hannity] very often”; and refrained from talking about Fox’s shows except to brag about their high ratings. He portrayed himself, intentionally or not, as a mere bystander in his own company.

The pretrial discovery process surfaced ample evidence of Murdoch’s influence: he banned Steve Bannon from appearing on air; he mobilized Fox assets to help Republicans win Senate races; he fretted about Rudy Giuliani’s relationship with Trump.

But the process also showed that Murdoch did not intervene when several Fox shows introduced insidious lies about the 2020 election results. He seemed shockingly unaware of what went on at his own company.

Nelson asked Murdoch at one point, “Do you think it’s healthy for democracy when millions of people believe a falsehood about whether an election was rigged?” Murdoch responded, “It is not good for any country if masses of people believe in falsehoods.”

It would be hard to write a more brutal epitaph for Murdoch’s decades at the helm of Fox.


Source: The Atlantic

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