Rupert Murdoch Steps Down as Fox and News Corp. Chairman, to Be Succeeded by Son Lachlan
Rupert Murdoch, whose sheer force of will allowed him to build a media empire that influenced the course of national politics in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, will step down as the titular head of the companies he controls, Fox Corp. and News Corp. — a move that could raise new questions about the fates of both assets.
Lachlan Murdoch, his son, will take over the chairman role at both companies, which between them operate Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal in the U.S. and The Times and The Sun in the U.K. Rupert, who is 92 years old, will shift into an emeritus role. The moves are expected to be approved in mid-November by the shareholders of each company. The elder Murdoch would appear to still control the family trust that governs both companies.
“On behalf of the Fox and News Corp boards of directors, leadership teams, and all the shareholders who have benefited from his hard work, I congratulate my father on his remarkable 70-year career,” said Lachlan Murdoch in a statement. “We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted. We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”
In a memo sent to staff, Rupert Murdoch said “the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole Chairman of both companies.”
The transition comes in the midst of a difficult era for the Murdochs. Fox Corp. earlier this year paid out a $787.5 million settlement to Dominion Voting Systems, a voting-technology company that alleged in a mammoth suit that it was defamed purposely by anchors and guests during shows on Fox News Channel after the 2020 presidential election. Fox faces shareholder lawsuits as a result, and another defamation suit from another voting company, Smartmatic, that is expected to get underway in 2025.
In the wake of Dominion’s victory, Fox ousted Tucker Carlson, the most-watched single opinion host on Fox News Channel, and, like other cable-news networks, has grappled with ratings churn, even as it has launched a new primetime lineup. Fox News Channel is arguably the financial linchpin of the Murdochs’ empire, but the millions it throws off in advertising and distribution fees are threatened by the exodus of viewers from linear TV to streaming, as well as moves by hard-line conservatives to smaller media outlets like Newsmax, or even to single hosts like Carlson, who has launched his own video podcast via X, the social media outlet formerly known as Twitter.
The Murdochs slimmed down their holdings in March of 2019 when they sold the bulk of their cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. In some ways, the move was prescient. Cable networks — especially those like FX and Nat Geo, which were among those sold — have been in gradual decline in the streaming era, and Disney recently agreed in a new carriage contract with Charter Communications to let the distributor drop some of its popular cable offerings.
Rupert Murdoch was initially a print baron, taking a newspaper previously owned by his father, the News of Adelaide, and gradually expanding into New Zealand and the U.K. In the 1970s, his empire stretched to the U.S. when he bought the San Antonio Express News, and then gained control in the 1980s of the 20th Century Fox movie studio. By 1986, he used a group of TV stations he controlled to launch the Fox broadcast network, a start-up that, after a bumpy ride, began to challenge ABC, NBC and CBS after Murdoch snagged NFL rights in 1993.
“I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me,” his memo continued. “Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.”
But Murdoch was never content to simply entertain the masses. He has long tried to play a role in national politics, using his media assets to promote issues or people he thought belonged in office. Fox News was seen as a direct ally of Donald Trump during his term as president, and has since its founding in 1996 held a larger-than-life role in the make-up of the Republican Party in the U.S.
The elder Murdoch stressed that “our companies are in robust health, as am I.”
“Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges,” he wrote. “We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.”
There has long been speculation that Murdochs’ heirs — sons Lachlan and James, daughters Elisabeth and Prudence — could chart new directions for the companies. James is known to hold decidedly different political views than his brother, Lachlan, who is more in tune with the right-wing and conservative programming that airs on Fox News.
But the elder Murdoch insisted he will keep an active hand in proceeds. As chairman emeritus, Rupert explained that he “will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” adding, “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, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”
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