But the “writers’ room” that produces scripts for “The Murdochs” in a back room somewhere won another triumph this weekend. James Murdoch, the media mogul’s youngest son, has walked away from the business that shaped his life and escaped the control of his 89-year-old Melbourne-born father.
Citing differences in the editorial lines adopted by the newspapers of the family conglomerate News Corp, which includes the le journal Wall Street and New York Post and the Australia, as good as Time and the Soleil in Britain, the youngest of Murdoch’s three children by Anna Maria Torv, his second wife, has announced that he will no longer sit on the board.
“My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s press organs and on certain other strategic decisions,” reads an official statement from the 47-year-old.
Yet if the allure of such a long-standing family drama lies in its ability to surprise audiences, then Murdoch’s latest twist in fortune doesn’t have any real shock value. James’ aversion to his father’s perspective on climate change – in short, which we don’t have to worry about unduly – has become increasingly evident, as have his own inclinations towards progressive politics.
For seasoned media expert Roy Greenslade, who has charted every turning point in the Patriarch’s career, this weekend’s episode was no flash. “It had been evident for a few years that James was unhappy with his father’s stance – and therefore the company’s stance – on climate change,” he said. “He and his wife have strongly criticized Rupert’s belief that change is not the result of human activity.”
The bushfires that ravaged Australia earlier this year are apparently at the center of James’ decision. In January, he and his wife, Kathryn, an environmental activist, released a statement expressing disappointment at the Fox News and other media coverage of News Corp.
An anonymous former colleague described how her initial skepticism about James’ talents turned out to be unfounded. Speaking this weekend from Los Angeles, she said, “I hope James will now use his resources to create antidotes to Fox News,” adding that her belief that he could change the views of his father and her brother may have just run out.
James’ views on US politics are also a factor. The more liberal Murdoch donated to Unite America and the Anti-Defamation League, two liberal causes. He donated money to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, while, in contrast, the family’s newscast helped elect the current incumbent. “James has also been anything but a fan of Donald Trump and his cable TV cheerleader Fox News,” said Greenslade.
The outspoken conservative news channel was founded in 1996, when Murdoch was at the height of his influence. He made headlines four years ago when his former boss, the late Roger Ailes, allegedly assaulted more than 20 women. He has since won fierce criticism for his misleading messages about the threat posed by Covid-19.
Murdoch Sr. now chairs a scaled-down Fox Corporation, which recently sold much of its television and film interests to Disney, as well as national and regional newspapers and News Corps news services. His eldest son, Lachlan, 48, is now co-chairman of News Corp and was named executive chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Corp last year.
“James’s resignation now paves the way for Lachlan to inherit the management of News Corp after Rupert’s death and, possibly, before her. But, given the state of the newspaper industry, this is unlikely to be a welcome legacy, ”said Greenslade.
And inheritance is the key. As fans of the hit TV series Succession you will understand, when you have a family business of this size, the issue of inheritance dominates. Playwright Lucy Prebble, who is currently working on the third season of the drama which is said to have been inspired by the Murdochs, was aware of some strange resonances this weekend. “While this is obviously a spoiler, there are some weird echoes with the end of Season 2 and Kendall’s public stance against her father,” she said.
Murdoch began to build his information empire, entering the UK media market in the late 1960s after acquiring a stable of Australian titles. This period inspired another recent dramatic success, the play West End and Broadway by James Graham, Ink, now made into a movie. “I want something loud… less hoity-toity and artistic fartsy and fancy pants… Margins, results, numbers are what matters,” Murdoch, 38, told the editor of The Sun. to conquer the Daily Mirror.
In 1973 Murdoch was financially victorious, expanding into America and founding News Corporation, one of the world’s largest media groups, seven years later. It is currently thought to be worth $ 17 billion.
Murdoch’s great age has intensified speculation about future leadership. Last year David Dimbleby gave a lengthy insight in his podcast The sun King. Murdoch was, Dimbleby said, “a conundrum” with a “risk-taking and filibuster approach to gathering information and using that power to influence public attitudes.”
Last month, the BBC television documentary series, The rise of the Murdoch dynasty, has presented the story so far to a wider audience. Her focus was the perceived battle between Anna’s three children, with Elisabeth, 51, described as her father’s likely favorite, and perhaps the most suitable for filling her shoes.
“In the usual sexist way, much of the rivalry involved the brothers,” said Simon Bunney, assistant producer of the documentary. “While James’ criticisms of Fox News are clearly genuine, there is a question about his political posture. He is politically closer to people like David Cameron and George Osborne than he is to the left.
Researchers also detected that James’ ambitions were thwarted when Disney bought the Murdoch film companies. “It had clearly been difficult for him to recover from the telephone hacking scandal in Britain which had resulted in the closure of the World news, but to some extent he had succeeded in this. With his technological interests, it was thought that he was keen to work more with television and film, ”Bunney said.
James wasn’t the first child to come out of the fold, of course. Elisabeth retired in 2001, becoming a successful independent television executive after working under her father’s leadership at BSkyB in the 1990s. Her second marriage to public relations guru Matthew Freud, great-grandson of Sigmund, also brought her inside another more famous, but liberal dynasty, and created new barriers.
She publicly raised an eyebrow when her father left her mother to marry a former office intern, Wendi Deng, the woman who later bore Murdoch her two youngest children, teenage girls Grace and Chloe. Elisabeth, who is now executive chairman of a production company, also has a lower profile third older half-sister. Journalist Prudence Murdoch, 62, is the daughter of her father’s first wife, Patricia Booker,
Since Murdoch’s marriage to Deng in 1999, Elisabeth has been present, bouquet in hand, for the last of her father’s brides: this time Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, Jerry Hall, the former model.
Curiosity for this family’s personal life inevitably arouses public interest, but it is their father’s impact on news coverage and international politics that still makes them important to watch.
British Murdoch newspapers are credited by many for giving Tony Blair the chance to rule Britain until the late 1990s, and in turn they are held responsible for shifting public opinion from Gordon Brown to David Cameron.
It was under Cameron’s presidency that Murdoch had his infamous “humblest day”, testifying to the Leveson inquiry into press abuses perpetrated by his British newspapers.
As the head of the household nears his 90th birthday next March, there is still room for more drama, with minor characters ready to step into the frame. Maybe the girls Chloe, Grace or even Prudence will emerge as players. Deng, however, with his alleged romantic penchant for Tony Blair and his spirited defense of her elderly husband during a parliamentary committee session, is certainly worthy of his own spinoff series.