Replacing Rupert Murdoch

Everything you need to know, in four paragraphs

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Here's everything you need to know, in four paragraphs:

With apologies to the Corleones, The Godfather "is nowhere near as fascinating" as the saga of Rupert Murdoch and his sons, said Jane Martinson at The Guardian. The 84-year-old Australian media mogul has chosen his 42-year-old son James to succeed him as CEO of 21st Century Fox, Murdoch's sprawling entertainment conglomerate that includes television networks, film studios, and satellite TV companies. While James will oversee Fox's day-to-day operations, his older brother, Lachlan, 43, will provide strategy as Fox's co–executive chairman, along with Rupert. To many, the move suggests the younger James is now "first among equals." The Murdoch brothers reportedly get along well, said David Gelles at The New York Times. But passing companies to the next generation is always a "hazardous task," particularly when the properties compose a global media empire worth $75 billion. "Fractious relations among siblings have undone many a family dynasty" with far less at stake.

"No one doubts the elder Murdoch will still have the final say on whatever goes on at Fox," said David Faber at CNBC. But the elevation of James has surprised many, since his reputation was badly tarnished during the phone-hacking scandal at the company's U.K. newspapers in 2011. Since then, however, he's reportedly "matured as a leader" and has been winning over Fox investors by being the driving force behind the firm's digital expansion efforts. "Forget the family intrigue for a second," said Edmund Lee at Recode. James has an unenviable challenge ahead of him. He's taking over one of the biggest TV companies in the world at a moment when new video-distribution models "are eating into established businesses." The younger Murdoch is seen as digitally savvy, but he "isn't known as a major TV disrupter."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The big question is what this leadership change means for the company's television crown jewel, Fox News, said Gabriel Sherman at New York. Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who has long "operated with virtual impunity" under Rupert, will now report to James and Lachlan. That could portend trouble: Ailes, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican partisan, has had a series of messy feuds with the more moderate Murdoch sons; Ailes reportedly once called James "a f---ing dope." The sons are likely to step carefully at first: Fox News is a cash cow, netting $1 billion annually, a full 20 percent of 21st Century Fox's total profits last year. But Ailes' contract is up next year, and his future at Fox may be in doubt.

This won't be the last of "palace intrigue in the court of Murdoch," said Jack Shafer at Politico. Rupert has been shuffling heirs "into and out of his corporate deck" for two decades. The only question that truly matters is whether the Murdoch clan can keep its grip on its empire after the patriarch dies. The Murdochs own 14 percent of both 21st Century Fox and the newspaper company News Corp., but 39 percent of the voting stock of each. If one of the sons "breaks ranks," a takeover of either company becomes much more likely. Ultimately, Murdoch's successor might not "be a Murdoch at all."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.