Rupert Murdoch steps aside at the empire he built

The last of the old-style 'press barons' has retired. What is he leaving behind?

Rupert Murdoch.
Murdoch, 92, will be succeeded by his eldest son, Lachlan
(Image credit: Jewel Samad / AFP )

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Rupert Murdoch took the raw material of populist grievance and turned it into “money and power,” said James Poniewozik in The New York Times. Over decades, Murdoch’s worldwide properties — most notably Fox News — “shifted their definition of ‘elite’ away from people with more money than you and toward people with more perceived cultural capital than you.” It would be the bedrock of conservative politics in the 21st century, fueling Fox’s cable domination and the rise of Donald Trump and his acolytes. Murdoch, who announced last week he is passing the chairmanship of Fox and News Corp. to his eldest son, Lachlan, made his fortune with a news philosophy that prioritized “making viewers feel — feel angry, betrayed, threatened.” Thus they “tuned in for hours.” Fox’s hosts powered this by promoting conspiracy theories and lies. “There is a Frankensteinian fittingness,” then, that Murdoch leaves with his empire “under pressure from right-wing networks and platforms with an even fuller MAGA sensibility and looser relation to reality.”

At 92, Murdoch is the last of the old-style “press barons,” said Adrian Wooldridge in Bloomberg. He is “the only contemporary figure who can be spoken of in the same breath as the great press barons of yesteryear” like William Randolph Hearst. Like theirs, his legacy is also complicated. He freed the newspaper industry “from the death grip of print unions” in the 1980s and ushered in “a golden age of print journalism.” However, “his willingness to stoke the forces of Trumpism” will taint how history views him. Murdoch triumphed by satisfying a market that felt ignored, said Cal Thomas in The Washington Times. “There likely would be no Fox News or talk radio were it not for the monopoly the Left has enjoyed for years in deciding what’s news and what isn’t and slanting its reporting to fit its mostly liberal political positions.” Rather than learn from Murdoch’s success, “the elites continue to deride it, deepening the loyalty of the people who see the network as defenders and proclaimers of their beliefs.”

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If you think that Murdoch cared that his audience felt ignored by other media, you totally misunderstand the man, said LZ Granderson in the Los Angeles Times. Murdoch was driven purely by his pursuit of cash. “The lies of Fox News — the jingoism and willful ignorance — were only incidentally an attack on democracy.” Their purpose was to build an audience to sell to advertisers and make Murdoch richer. It’s impossible to quantify the harm this has done to our country.

Just note that the word “retire” never actually appears in Murdoch’s announcement, said Jack Shafer in Politico. “Everything in Murdoch world is situational,” including his decision to step down while staying “involved every day” as chairman emeritus. Stepping back officially now “boosts the status of his chosen heir, Lachlan,” who is likely to keep Fox News on the path his father charted, and cuts the chances that everything “the old man built will be sold off, bit by bit.” This announcement is a “trial balloon” for Lachlan’s “regency,” with Rupert — as always — reserving the option to reverse course. Stay tuned.

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