NEW YORK – For better or worse, depending on your politics, Rupert Murdoch altered how stories are reported when his Fox News made it a partisan affair, but his mark is indelible, and will stay that way even as he has retired from its operation.
The 92-year-0ld Australian, his company reeling after paying $787 million to settle a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of false claims following the 2020 Presidential election, has given the reins to his son, Lachlan.
Murdoch, going all against all the tenets of objective journalism, made his subjective and to his political and financial benefit in convincing viewers what they were watching was news on Fox, even if it often wasn’t.
He has stepped down as leader of both Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media holdings but will remain a force behind the scenes as Chairman Emeritus of both, his son become News Corp. Chairman and Fox Corp. CEO.
Lachlan Murdoch said that “we are grateful that he will serve as chairman emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies,” although the family leader said he would stay actively involved.
Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network, the first to successfully challenge the Big Three of ABC, CBS and NBC, with shows like The Simpsons,” a cartoon whose parodies soon mimicked what the station showed.
He is also the owner of The Wall Street Journal and also the New York Post, that had essentially been turned into a propaganda machine for former President Donald Trump before Murdoch soured on him.
Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and the nation’s politics since its start in 1996, making Murdoch a hero to some and pariah to others, the 24-hour network converting the power and energy of political talk radio to television. Within six years, it outrated CNN and MSNBC.
Some of the hosts were akin to shock jocks on radio and made no bones about being right wing or extremist to gain ratings, embracing conspiracy theories such as the Jan. 6 Capital insurrection being the work of left-wing tricksters.
But it was the defamation suit loss that hit the hardest and led Murdoch to hire Fox’s most influential and most-watched TV personality, Tucker Carlson, who was as far from being a journalist as you can get.
Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox even at his advanced age. “I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas, Murdoch wrote.
“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,” he said.
There was no word on why the announcement came now but it happened as author and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff is publishing a book, The End of Fox News,” speculating what will happen with Murdoch sidelined.
Murdoch and his family, particularly children James, Lachlan, Elisabeth and Prudence, were said to be the model of the HBO show Succession about raw power and a family’s fight for control when the patriarch becomes ill.
He built his empire from a single newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, inherited from his father and became a multi-billionaire. Forbes estimated the Murdoch family’s net worth at roughly $19 billion in 2020.
While Murdoch never ran for office, politicians in the United States and Britain anxiously sought his approval, wanting to kiss his ring, knowing the influence of his audience on their standing.
He named Lachlan as the operating heir to his business empire in 2019, when he sold his vast entertainment holdings to the Walt Disney Company, said The New York Times in a story about the change at the top.
Though the company’s holdings include The Wall Street Journal, Fox broadcasting and Tubi, it has been more defined by the populist conservative voices at Fox News and The Sun tabloid in Britain, the Times noted.
It was said that Murdoch wanted to go out while he still had his faculties and not as a figure diminished by age and all that it can bring even to the hardiest or figgest figure.
With his retirement, Murdoch was also further solidifying the company beneath his heir instead of leaving to a Succession-like family battle for power or Game of Thrones like challenge for his empire.
Under the terms of the family trust that controls the family’s stake in the empire, each of Murdoch’s four eldest children will have an equal vote on its future following his death. Until then, he still holds the controlling vote.