Meet Lachlan Murdoch 09/23 07:25
Story Similar to HBO Drama
(AP) -- For Lachlan Murdoch, this moment has been a long time coming.
Assuming, of course, that his moment has actually arrived.
On Thursday, his father Rupert Murdoch announced that in November he'll step
down as the head of his two media companies: News Corp. and Fox Corp. Lachlan
will become the chair of News Corp. while remaining chief executive and chair
at Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel.
The changes make Rupert's eldest son the undisputed leader of the media
empire his father built over decades. There's no real sign that his siblings
and former rivals James and Elisabeth contested him for the top job; James in
particular has distanced himself from the company and his father's politics for
several years. But Rupert, now 92, has long had a penchant for building up his
oldest children only to later undermine them -- and sometimes to set them
against one another -- often flipping the table without notice.
Given Rupert Murdoch's advanced age, this might be his last power move. But
there's a reason the HBO drama " Succession " was often interpreted as a thinly
disguised and dark satire of his family business. In Murdoch World, as in the
fictional world of the Roy family, seemingly sure things can go sideways in an
instant, particularly when unexpected opportunities arise.
Lachlan Murdoch has lived that first hand. Born in London, he grew up in New
York City and attended Princeton, where he focused not on business, but
philosophy. His bachelor's thesis, titled "A Study of Freedom and Morality in
Kant's Practical Philosophy," addressed those weighty topics alongside passages
of Hindu scripture. The thesis closed on a line from the Bhagavad Gita
referencing "the infinite spirit" and "the pure calm of infinity," according to
a 2019 article in The Intercept.
Batrice Longuenesse, Lachlan's thesis adviser at Princeton, confirmed the
accuracy of that report via email.
After graduation, though, Lachlan plunged headlong into his father's
business, moving to Australia to work for the Murdoch newspapers that were once
the core of News Corp.'s business. Many assumed he was being groomed for higher
things at News Corp., and they were not wrong. Within just a few years, Lachlan
was deputy CEO of the News Corp. holding company for its Australian properties;
shortly thereafter, he took an executive position at News Corp. itself and was
soon running the company's television stations and print publishing operations.
Lachlan's ascent came to an abrupt halt in 2005, when he resigned from News
Corp. with no public explanation. According to Paddy Manning, an Australian
journalist who last year published a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the core
problem involved two relatively minor issues on which Lachlan disagreed with
Roger Ailes, who then ran Fox News.
"The real point was that Lachlan felt Rupert had backed his executives over
his son," Manning said in an interview. "So Lachlan felt, 'If I'm not going to
be supported, then what's the point?'" Manning did not have direct access to
Lachlan for his book "The Successor," but said he spoke in depth with the
people closest to his subject.
Lachlan returned to Australia, where he has often described feeling most at
home, and founded an investment group that purchased a string of local radio
stations among other properties.
While he was away, News Corp. entered choppy waters. The U.K. phone-hacking
scandal, in which tabloid journalists at the News of the World and other
Murdoch-owned publications had found a way to listen to voicemails of the
British royal family, journalistic competitors and even a missing schoolgirl,
had seriously damaged the company. The fracas led to resignations of several
News Corp. officials, criminal charges against some, and the closure of News of
the World as its finances went south.
Manning said that the damage the scandal inflicted on News Corp. -- and on
both Lachlan Murdoch's father and his brother James, chief executive of News'
British newspaper group at the time -- helped pull Lachlan back to the company.
"He was watching the family tear itself apart over the phone-hacking
scandal," Manning said. Lachlan was "instrumental in trying to circle the
wagons and turn the guns outwards, and stop Rupert from sacking James."
While it took more convincing, Lachlan eventually returned to the company in
2014 as co-chairman of News Corp. alongside James.
Not long afterward, Ailes was forced out of his job at Fox News following
numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment.
Lachlan Murdoch has drawn criticism from media watchdogs for what many
called Fox News' increasingly conspiratorial and misinformation-promoting
broadcasts. The network hit a nadir following the 2020 election when voting
machine company Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion,
alleging that Fox knowingly promoted false conspiracy theories about the
security of its voting machines.
Fox settled that suit for $787.5 million in March of this year. A similar
lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, another voting-machine maker, may go to trial in
2025, Fox has suggested.
In certain respects, though, Lachlan Murdoch's behavior suggests some
ambivalence about his role at News Corp. In 2021 he moved back to Sidney and
has been mixing commuting and remote work from Australia ever since. "I think
there's a legitimate question about whether you can continue to do that and for
how long" while running companies based in the U.S., Manning said.