Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch announced that he was stepping down as chairman of Fox and News Corp and taking up an “emeritus chairman” position, leaving his son Lachlan to run the business. The media world is still reeling from the news – Murdoch’s fans and enemies alike consider him immortal, and it’s difficult to know what the conservative media landscape will look like without Murdoch. In a letter to Fox and News Corp employees, Murdoch wrote that he and his companies are “in robust health,” but:
“The battle for freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense…Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”
The stones of this Oxford-educated media elite to lecture anyone on peddling false narrative or silencing enemies, my god. Speaking of, Fox News insiders are still trying to figure out why Rupert would step down now. Those insiders spoke to Gabe Sherman (who has long been on the Murdoch beat) at Vanity Fair. Some highlights:
One theory is about Murdoch’s failure to disclose health issues: One is that Murdoch, who turns 93 in March, had an unreported health crisis, which could be considered a material event for a publicly traded company. Murdoch’s memo shot down this line of speculation. “Our companies are in robust health, as am I,” he wrote. But my May Vanity Fair cover story reported that Murdoch had been secretly hospitalized in recent years for a broken back, seizures, two bouts of pneumonia, atrial fibrillation, a torn Achilles tendon, and COVID-19. Murdoch wanted these incidents out of the press. According to a source close to Murdoch, he used the pseudonym “Mr. Black” when being admitted to a hospital in order to avoid the media. So, given this history of hiding health scares, it’s entirely possible that illness forced Murdoch into retirement.
The other huge lawsuit facing Fox News: The second theory is that Murdoch’s retirement is related to Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. Smartmatic is suing Fox over the network’s false claims that its voting machines were used to steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Sources speculated that Murdoch is retiring to avoid having to testify in the Smartmatic proceedings. “This takes him out of the line of fire,” a prominent media executive said.
The Dominion Voting Systems settlement: In April, I reported that Fox settled with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million on the eve of the trial at least in part because Fox lawyers didn’t want Murdoch to testify in open court. “They were hoping and praying to settle for months, but they didn’t want to pay up,” a source told me. The source said the lawyers told Fox execs that once the trial began, Murdoch would be “disgraced on the stand, run out of the boardroom, and his testimony [would] expose him as a lunatic sliding into senility.” (A person close to Murdoch disputed this: “Rupert was very well prepared to testify.”) On Wednesday, Fox lawyers made it clear they don’t want Murdoch to testify in the Smartmatic case, asking a New York State judge to dismiss Fox Corp. from the suit because Murdoch wasn’t involved in day-to-day editorial decisions.”
Maybe Murdoch is trying to get ahead of something: Another theory is that the company is facing some unknown scandal. “They are trying to get ahead of something,” a person close to the Murdochs told me.
Lachlan will run Fox from Australia?? One thing is certain: Murdoch’s formal retirement will deepen Fox’s leadership void. The company will be solely run by Lachlan, who lives in Sydney, and is seen by many to be less engaged than his father. “Lachlan goes to the rock climbing gym every day. I think he has kind of lost interest since James left, but he is still trying to impress his dad,” a person close to Lachlan told me for my May cover story. Lachlan has largely relied on Viet Dinh, Fox’s chief legal officer, to run the company day-to-day from Los Angeles. But it was announced in August that Dinh will be stepping down at the end of the year, seemingly in part over his handling of Fox’s Dominion defense strategy. How Lachlan handles the pressures of being the new king will determine the future of a media empire that shapes conservative politics on three continents.
“I think he has kind of lost interest since James left, but he is still trying to impress his dad” – play the Succession theme again!! No, but really, I am curious about what’s going on here. Dealer’s choice: Rupert is too senile to testify; Rupert would incriminate himself and Fox if he testified; Rupert hasn’t disclosed some unknown illness; Rupert is trying to get ahead of some scandal. My guess is that it’s at least two of these things put together. Will Murdoch’s empire be more or less dangerous with a leadership void?
Photos courtesy of Cover Images.
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