At the age of 92, Rupert Murdoch has finally stepped down as chair of News Corp. The ‘most dangerous man in the world’ has put his son in charge. By Rick Morton.

‘I am in robust health’: Rupert Murdoch hands the empire to Lachlan

Lachlan Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch sit in the stands of an arena.
Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan at the 2018 tennis US Open.
Credit: Jean Catuffe / GC Images

Rupert Murdoch, 92, has announced he will step down as chair of Fox Corporation and News Corporation from mid-November, ending decades of succession speculation by handing the reins to his eldest boy, Lachlan.

The media mogul, who by his own declaration is in rude health, has opted to become a “chairman emeritus”.

“In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” he said in a memo to staff.

“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, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”

The old-school newspaperman, who built a global media empire worth tens of billions of dollars from a base in Adelaide, who used power and mongrel to bend politics – even democracies – to his will and whose family is now worth more than $25 billion, railed against the “elites” in his departing missive.

“My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” he said.

“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.”

Those who have worked with both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch believe his son is the more conservative, more ideologically rapacious. Where Rupert Murdoch could, on occasion, be driven by the realpolitik of his own business interests, that is less true of Lachlan, who has been running the Australian media assets and serving as co-chair of the two media corporations with his father.

“On behalf of the FOX and News Corp boards of directors, leadership teams, and all the shareholders who have benefited from his hard work, I congratulate my father on his remarkable 70-year career,” Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement posted to the companies’ websites.

“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. We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.” 

Rupert Murdoch has four votes on the trust that essentially controls the family empire. Each of his eldest children – Prudence from his first marriage, then Elisabeth, Lachlan and James – have one vote each. On his death, each of his votes will be distributed equally among these four.

His two children with ex-wife Wendi Deng have financial interests, but no votes.

Even among the four in favour, the fight for the top job, and a father’s affection, was never equal. Lachlan was regarded as the “golden child” and, as far back as 1999, Rupert Murdoch believed him the likely heir – if he wanted the job badly enough. Elisabeth, who created and sold the tremendously successful television and film production company Shine Group, has long been seen by some as the best business brain of all the children. Sharp, tactful, liberal and – worst of all – a woman, she was never really in the running. James led the field for a while, when Lachlan clashed with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, quit, and sulked back to Australia in 2005, but that was a temporary stay in proceedings.

Prudence was never considered. In a 1997 press conference, Rupert Murdoch referred to his “three children”. He apologised to her with “the biggest bunch of flowers – it was bigger than a sofa – and two clementine trees”, she told The Sydney Morning Herald in 1997.

Now, at least with his retirement, Murdoch has chosen to control his exit. His own mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, who lived to 103, believed he would never retire. Murdoch joked – or perhaps, half-joked – that he was interested in the field of medical science that could limit ageing and prolong death.

“Our companies are in robust health, as am I,” Murdoch said in his letter, ever obsessed with vitality. “Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them.

“But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.”

Murdoch, who broke off an engagement to conservative radio host Ann Lesley Smith early this year, has started dating again.

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