By Oliver Darcy, CNN
(CNN) — Lachlan Murdoch is stepping onto center stage.
On Wednesday, his father, Rupert Murdoch, officially stepped down as chairman of News Corporation, the print publishing arm of the billionaire mogul’s powerful media empire, marking the end of an era. Rupert, who maintained he will continue an “active role” in the company, will formally transition to chairman emeritus of Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News and other broadcasting assets, at the company’s annual meeting on Friday.
In his final remarks on Wednesday to the News Corporation board as chairman, Murdoch hit on a number of topics. He spoke about the “opportunities and the challenges” with artificial intelligence. He drew attention to The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, who remains detained in Russia. And he, yet again, assailed the “intolerant elite” who he claimed “regard differing opinions as anathema.” (Yes, Rupert somehow manages to continue to do this without a hint of irony).
But, he saved his most important remarks for last. The nonagenarian ended his remarks by heaping praise on his eldest son, portraying Lachlan as a worthy successor to him, a man fit to sit on the throne and lead his publishing empire into the future. He described Lachlan as a “principled leader” and a “believer in the social purpose of journalism.”
“Like my father, I believe that humanity has a ‘high destiny,’ and Lachlan certainly shares that belief,” Rupert said. “That sense of destiny is not just a blessing, but a responsibility.”
While Lachlan, 52, has certainly been in his father’s shadow during his time in the family business, he has served in senior leaderships roles at Murdoch companies for decades. His profile rose when he took on the role of executive chairman in 2015 at what was then 21st Century Fox. After Disney acquired the bulk of Fox’s assets, Lachlan edged out his younger brother, the more progressive James Murdoch, 50, and became chief executive and chairman of the slimmed down company.
In that post as chief executive, Lachlan has at times been described as an aloof figure spending great deals of time in Australia, far from the businesses he oversees. But he has made some notable business moves of his own. In 2020, for instance, he spearheaded Fox’s acquisition of the advertiser-supported Tubi for $440 million. By 2023, Tubi’s value had grown so much that Fox reportedly turned down a $2 billion offer to purchase it.
That said, when succession intrigue at the Murdoch empire arises in conversation, the focus is never on assets like Tubi, and almost always about the political ramifications. The most notable Murdoch asset is the right-wing channel Fox News, which has unleashed torrents of dishonest and dangerous propaganda upon the world, much of it recently in service of the disgraced former President Donald Trump who is trying to regain power.
Privately, Lachlan, who is said to hold more conservative views than his father, has denounced some of Trump’s behavior in harsh terms. People familiar with his private remarks told CNN last year that Lachlan has freely criticized Trump, having even gone as far as to say that he believed if Trump ran for president it would be bad for the US.
But Lachlan, whose Fox News has refrained from openly skewering the GOP frontrunner, has never made such comments in public. Lachlan has talked in broad terms about the dangerous times we live in. On Tuesday night, he made remarks at the American Australian Association’s 75th anniversary dinner, acknowledging a time of “generational realignment” and stating that “navigating this” difficult era “will require clear vision, great courage, and political will.” But, when it has mattered, he hasn’t personally demonstrated the willpower to stand up to some of the sinister forces wreaking havoc on the free world.
Instead, on one of the great issues of our time, the attacks on the very foundation of America’s democratic system, Lachlan and his father not only failed to stand up to the menacing powers, but played an active role in elevating their poisonous lies. Lachlan and Rupert allowed election disinformation to take hold on their air — and Lachlan, in particular, then publicly defended the channel’s 2020 election coverage, despite the lies that saturated it having cost their company the better part of $1 billion in legal settlements in the wake of the Dominion Voting Systems case.
As his father steps aside and Lachlan assumes the throne, one should not expect the outlets to take on a different tone under his leadership. Lachlan himself vowed to investors earlier this year that there will be “no change” in strategy at Fox News, though it should be noted that was prior to the announcement that Rupert would hand over the crown.
Nevertheless, the highly anticipated succession raises the question of whether Lachlan will ever occupy the post of GOP kingmaker that his father had filled for decades. Jim Rutenberg, a reporter for The New York Times who has for years reported extensively on the Murdoch family, noted to CNN on Wednesday that with Rupert, “you see major Republican candidates come to the Avenue of the Americas and kiss the ring and try to warm him up.” He added, “Will Lachlan be that person?”
Rutenberg said that he will be closely paying attention to what, if any, effect Rupert’s transition to chairman emeritus status will have.
“My main interest is in two things,” Rutenberg told CNN. “Murdoch continues to indicate that he is still going to be super involved. So how much is this a full on passing of the baton if Murdoch is still in meetings and providing input as the most famous media mogul who has ever lived?”
“And secondly,” Rutenberg continued, “if it is a real passing of the baton, does Lachlan step into the role that his father has held in American media and politics for at least two generations? Rupert became a looming presence in American politics in the mid-70s. Will Lachlan step out and be a figure, a notable person, or will he maintain his current stance which is really one that hangs back and doesn’t like to be out front?”
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