By Helena Dobbs
After 70 years at the helm of his prolific media empire, Rupert Murdoch has handed the leadership baton to his eldest son, Lachlan. The announcement brought an end to the long-running speculation surrounding Murdoch’s succession — a mystery that (allegedly) inspired (in my humble opinion) the best television show of all time, Succession. As in the HBO hit show, the question of Murdoch’s succession came down to his second, third, and fourth child: Elizabeth, Lachlan, and James. Although each have had their moments in the spotlight, it seems that Murdoch’s eldest boy has finally come out on top.
So, formally, Lachlan is CEO. It took him merely a day to put his stamp on the leadership role, nominating the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, for a seat on the Fox News board. But how much control does he really have? And how long will his reign last? With his father still alive, and with his siblings hungry for a slice of the pie, Lachlan’s limbs are tied to multiple strings, tugging in different directions. Here, I provide the 3 most obstructing, though this is likely not an exhaustive list:
1. The first string is held by his father. The elder Murdoch may have handed over the reins, but he clearly does not intend to yield all control. In this exit statement, Rupert named himself as Chairman Emeritus, saying he is optimistic about the coming years and ‘plan[s] to be here to participate in them’. I doubt that Lachlan is looking at a leadership free from the influence of his predecessor.
That being said, although he may plan to live forever, Rupert’s health has been of concern for some time. His battle with Covid-19 left him less able to stand at his granddaughter Charlotte’s wedding in July of last year. The 91-year-old is reported to have suffered multiple seizures, broken bones, and bouts of pneumonia in recent years. Thus, it is possible that Lachlan has had considerable control over the company’s direction for a while.
2. The second string tied to Lachlan’s foot is the Fox News’ right-wing viewership. Lachlan’s takeover comes at a turbulent time for the News channel, having recently paid out a large legal settlement to the voting company Dominion who sued News Corp for its coverage of the 2020 US presidential election. During and after the vote, Fox News fuelled speculation that the election was rigged, a conspiracy that reached its pinnacle with the January 6th storming of the Capitol. A searing exposé of the Murdoch family infighting published by Vanity Fair revealed just how far the reporting decisions during that period were driven by fear of losing their reactionary and lucrative audience. With another presidential election on the horizon, we may wonder how Lachlan will handle another period of high stakes and potential controversy. Perhaps the hefty sum paid out in lawsuits will prompt a change in strategy.
3. The third string is being tugged weakly by his three eldest siblings and lifelong competitors. Though they may not hold much influence presently, Murdoch’s death will bring a shift in ownership stakes. The patriarch’s 4 votes will be distributed equally between his 4 eldest children, giving them equal ownership of the company, and power to appoint leadership. While Rupert Murdoch may have stepped back from everyday operational duties at News Corp, his presence on the backburner will undoubtedly be on the mind of the new leader who, potentially, has limited time to feel secure on the throne.
Whether Rupert Murdoch continues to rule by proxy, or his eldest son takes full control of the wheel, we should not expect a change in the direction for the News corporation. Both Lachlan’s friendship with the former Fox News anchor, Tucker Carlson; and the appointment of former Australian conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the already right leaning board, are indications that he intends to keep channelling the same path that his father has for years. The only question that remains then is a simple one: does Lachlan want to be his father’s best boy, or his own man?
Image: Clemens V. Vogelslang via Wikimedia Commons