Rupert Murdoch retired as chairman of News Corp. on Wednesday, passing the role onto son Lachlan almost 50 years after the company launched in the United States.
But the chances of the elder Murdoch staying out of future News Corp. affairs is about as likely as Fox News endorsing Joe Biden for president.
Murdoch told the board of directors as much on his way out. He said he would remain involved as chairman emeritus, noting he hoped to continue an “active role” at the company upon retirement.
The 92-year-old is hardly the only aging media mogul who’s had trouble releasing the reigns. Sumner Redstone, who died in 2020, remained the nominal chairman at CBS and Viacom until he was 93 and then remained chairman emeritus for another four years. Investors want to see stability, so getting a younger generation (Lachlan is 52) in place is critical for company health.
But many media analysts wonder if Murdoch can restrain himself from interfering in the day-to-day affairs of News Corp. at a crucial time for it and other media companies. In addition to the singular questions facing crown jewel Fox News, which earlier this year settled a costly defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems and fired top-rated host Tucker Carlson, it is also navigating greater questions about the long-term prospects of traditional media such as its Wall Street Journal.
Charting Murdoch’s Future Path
Murdoch is a man with many opinions who isn’t afraid to voice them. At his final meeting as News Corp. chairman, he shared his thoughts on global affairs and also lamented a common conservative gripe about the supposed “suppression of debate” over political issues, decrying an “intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema.”
It’s not hard to imagine him writing a memoir (likely with a ghostwriter), giving him a chance to control the narrative around Fox News, including past controversies such as the firing of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly following sexual harassment allegations. That would give Murdoch a chance to get the last word on incidents that could tarnish his legacy—certainly other authors have had lots to say about his role.
Then again, Murdoch has never been one who felt a need to justify his actions, and he could see a memoir as unnecessary navel-gazing, something he criticizes the “media elite” for doing.
More likely is that Murdoch will dabble in both behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-scenes influencing of future News Corp. policy. He doesn’t shy from sharing opinions, and he has yet to show full faith in his children’s abilities to shepherd News Corp. in his absence. Indeed, while he set them against each other in a Succession-style competition to inherit the News Corp. chairmanship, he has rarely praised their decision-making or voiced support for anything they’ve done without his guidance.
Decisions Ahead At Fox News
Of particular concern for Murdoch may be what happens next at Fox News. While Lachlan hasn’t shared his personal political views, it’s the bottom line that matters to an executive—and Rupert (no fan of Donald Trump) knows that.
He will undoubtedly push Lachlan behind the scenes to toe the party line at Fox News, which continues to draw strong viewership. But the channel also faces additional legal woes stemming from election coverage. A former producer has filed a lawsuit claiming he was unfairly dismissed for pushing back against “stolen election” claims, and another voting software maker has accused Fox News personalities of making false statements about it.
Plus, like other media companies, News Corp. faces questions about how to use and/or combat the use of artificial intelligence, a big concern at newspapers (in addition to the WSJ, the company owns a dozen other papers, including The New York Post). You can bet Murdoch has opinions he’ll share in public and private on those matters.