Here comes the son: Is Lachlan Murdoch up to the job?
By Paddy Manning
Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch in 2017.Credit: Photo by Rob Latour/Shutterstock
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Lachlan Murdoch had a fabulous northern hemisphere summer, culminating in a few weeks’ sailing off Italy’s Amalfi Coast with his extended family and a veritable army of crew and staff. Let’s call it part holiday, part “working from ocean”. From Paris to London, Mallorca to Capri, if he was having a crisis thanks to the disastrous headlines for Fox that had dominated the first half of 2023, he wasn’t showing it. To the contrary, knowing what was coming, he was recharging the batteries.
The trip started in June in Paris, where Lachlan and wife Sarah attended the wedding of French-born Sydney chef Guillaume Brahimi and Australian chicken heiress Tamie Ingham, at which Lachlan was one of six groomsmen.
Lachlan went on to Rupert Murdoch’s annual summer garden party at the end of the month, a fixture on the London social calendar. Lachlan seemed happy not to be the centre of attention as his 92-year-old father held court in front of a crowd including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, opposition leader Keir Starmer and a bevy of senior politicians and minor celebrities. “They weren’t there to see [Lachlan], they were there to see Rupert,” says British financial analyst Claire Enders, who jagged a late invite to the lavish do at historic Spencer House in St James – flowers everywhere, gallons of champagne – where Rupert had married Jerry Hall seven years earlier.
Then it was full steam ahead to Mallorca, where Lachlan, Sarah and their three children could finally relax on their $US150 million super-yacht, Sarissa. Built in Holland, the 60-metre aluminium sloop was meant to be ready mid-last year, but due to delays associated with the pandemic and war in Ukraine it was delivered this year, thankfully in time for the July Australian school holidays.
The family cruised on to Capri, where they met up with Rupert, who’d chartered the motor yacht Christina O, sumptuously refurbished for the daughter of late Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Rupert was accompanied by a new flame, 66-year-old scientist Elena Zhukova, whom he’d met through his third wife, Wendi Deng, in yet another extension of the serial monogamist’s remarkable love life.
It was a relief for the family after a wobble earlier in the year, when Rupert broke off his brief engagement with dental hygienist Ann Lesley Smith. This was after it emerged she’d been accused in a court case of financial elder abuse by the children of her late second husband, who claimed she’d tried to disinherit them – there was even an allegation that she’d forged his signature on a property transfer. The case settled with no findings of wrongdoing; even so, nothing could frighten the Murdoch children more.
Also on board the Christina O were Rupert’s daughter Elisabeth, 55, and her husband, artist Keith Tyson, 54, plus Grace and Chloe, Rupert’s two daughters with Deng, now aged 22 and 20 respectively. Not present was Rupert’s oldest daughter Prudence, 65, from his first marriage, or his younger son James, 50, reportedly “iced out” for his trenchant public criticisms of the Murdoch media over its reporting on the 2020 US election, public health and climate change.
Did the presence of Liz, the family’s peacemaker, mean that she was swinging her weight behind Lachlan rather than James in the endless contest between the brothers over which one of them would succeed their father? Not necessarily, says someone who understands the family dynamic. “Liz loves her father,” they observe, suggesting her presence on the boat was likely as simple – or as complicated – as that.
Lachlan was one of six groomsmen at chef Guillaume Brahimi’s June wedding, the start of a swing around Europe that took in family time on his $US150 million superyacht.Credit: BACKGRID Australia
Capri was a world away from the negative coverage that had plagued the Murdochs since January, when the planned merger of the two arms of the Murdoch empire had been abandoned after drawing fire from sceptical minority shareholders and criticism from James. News Corp houses publishing assets across the US, UK and Australia – the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Australian and a bunch of tabloid newspapers, plus book publisher HarperCollins, Australian pay TV company Foxtel and digital real estate business REA Group. Fox Corp, meanwhile, is home to Fox News, Fox Sports and 29 local Fox TV stations. The proposed merger of Fox Corp and News Corp was ostensibly shelved to pursue a sale of the US digital real estate business but that deal fell over, too.
Next came Fox’s $US787.5 million settlement in the defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems, stemming from Fox News’ coverage of former president Donald Trump’s ‘“Big Lie” about how the 2020 US election had been stolen from him. Evidence uncovered during the case suggested few at Fox believed the stolen election claims emanating from the Trump camp, which blamed Dominion and another vote-counting company, Smartmatic, for flipping votes to Joe Biden. Nonetheless, the claims were endorsed on the Fox News network at least 50 times in the lead-up to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol building.
The Dominion settlement was followed by the benching in April of Fox News’ biggest star, Tucker Carlson – once a dining companion of Lachlan – and a resulting dramatic prime-time ratings slide for the cable network. Then there was the unseemly legal victory Lachlan handed feisty Australian website Crikey, when he dropped his own defamation action against it over an opinion piece which, in a rhetorical flourish, had described the Murdochs as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the US Capitol insurrection. Rupert had always thought it a bad look for media proprietors to sue journalists, and his son was labelled thin-skinned for taking Crikey to court – and had to pay its legal costs.
Lachlan, it seemed, was facing his biggest test since being appointed chairman and CEO of Fox Corp in 2019. One unnamed senior media executive told London’s Financial Times that fingers would be pointed at Lachlan over his handling of the various scandals at Fox: “They are making mistake, after mistake, after mistake right now.” Everyone from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to Beth Ailes, widow of Fox News founding CEO Roger, took to the media to mock the intelligence of Rupert’s eldest son. Had Lachlan, given the keys to one of the prized assets of the Murdoch empire, gone out and crashed it?
Lachlan’s 500-tonne super yacht, slicing through the Mediterranean in June with his beloved family on board, was his answer to all that. He’d charted a course for the Fox business, he was sticking to it and a stable Fox Corp share price suggested investors were by and large remaining supportive. What’s more, Fox News ratings were recovering. His critics could stick it.
After he got back from holidays in early August, Lachlan handed down an impressive set of numbers for Fox Corp for fiscal 2023, including record annual revenue. Within days of that result, Viet Dinh, his hand-picked chief legal and policy officer and the executive most responsible for Fox’s legal response to Dominion, announced he’d be stepping down from the role at the end of the year. Dinh, the second-highest-compensated executive at Fox and godfather to Lachlan’s eldest son, Kalan, had been seen by many as the power behind the throne. From now on, there’d be no other major power at Fox than Lachlan.
That turned out to be the case beyond Fox, too. After building a global media empire over the course of a 70-year career, Rupert Murdoch in late September announced that he was retiring, quitting the boards of Fox Corp and News Corp to become their chairman emeritus. Already firmly in charge at Fox, Lachlan would take over the whole empire in November, becoming executive chairman of News Corp as well as Fox Corp. After a lifetime’s apprenticeship, at 52, the “first among equals” of Rupert’s children – as his dad once called him – was to be his successor.
Rupert with (from left) James, Elisabeth and Lachlan at a 2007 private family gathering in London. There has been family tension over who would succeed the mogul.Credit: Getty Images
The question on everyone’s mind is simple: is he up to it? Time will tell, but Lachlan’s responses to this year’s travails have certainly underlined his growing confidence that indeed he is. They helped explain, too, why he secured the backing of his father and fellow board members to take on the dual top jobs. If he had to press for the stepping down of his right-hand adviser, he’d do it. If he had to fire his biggest star, he’d do it. The message? The empire his father built would not be crashing on his watch, but crashing through.
When he arrived in Australia from the US in the mid-1990s, Lachlan Murdoch was regarded as the soft left vanguard of a new generation of the country’s most powerful media dynasty. The handsome, tattooed rock climber and Sydney-to-Hobart sailor was against One Nation, pro an Australian republic, thoroughly broadminded and cosmopolitan: a classic small-l liberal, as his father Rupert had been so long ago that most people had forgotten. And just like his father, Lachlan has grown increasingly conservative with age. Over the past decade, as he was drawn into the Fox side of the family business, the shift seems only to have accelerated.
The seeds of the momentous changes announced last month were sewn in the northern spring of 2017, when Rupert, Lachlan and 21st Century Fox’s chief financial officer Paul Nallen sat down at the New York headquarters of both Fox and News. On a yellow notepad, Rupert sketched out how the then 21st Century Fox might be divided into two buckets: news and sports in one, to be kept; movies and entertainment in the other, to be sold.
Rupert saw that Fox could no longer compete with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. Soon after, he had a glass of wine at his Los Angeles vineyard with Disney chief Bob Iger and in 2019, Disney paid a staggering $US71 billion for the storied 21st Century Fox film and television studios in the US, while underbidder Comcast bought the Sky pay-TV business in Europe.
Lachlan Murdoch was regarded as the soft left vanguard of a new generation of the country’s most powerful media dynasty.
Lachlan took over as CEO of the remaining rump business, spun out into a new company called Fox Corporation. News Corp, which had been split off from 21st Century Fox in 2013 in the wake of the UK phone hacking scandal, was unaffected. The 21st Century Fox sale was a defining, top-of-the-market deal that saw Rupert Murdoch sell the vast bulk of the global media empire he’d built since his father died in 1952. Apparently Nallen, now Fox Corp’s COO, still has the yellow piece of paper.
Five years later, in February 2022, the directors and senior management of both Fox and News gathered at Chartwell, Lachlan’s glitzy $US150 million mansion in Bel Air – at the time, the most expensive home in LA – for a strategy day that kicked off talks about merging the two remaining halves of the empire back into one again. Lachlan set the agenda, aided by British expat Paul Cheesbrough, the ex-BBC and ex-IBM technology executive who was a rising star in the Murdoch ranks. The focus was on how, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Murdoch businesses should respond to Web 3.0: a vision of a disintermediated digital future starring the metaverse and non-fungible tokens.
Lachlan Murdoch’s Bel Air mansion, Chartwell, at $US150 million the most expensive ever sold in LA when he took the keys.
No sooner had the strategy been discussed, however, than a wrecking ball smashed into the media and technology industries and the streaming bubble
burst. Netflix’s share price would plunge 70 per cent by the end of June, while the newly merged Warner Bros Discovery cancelled its new streaming service CNN+ within weeks of its launch. Disney and Paramount were soon reeling, too. Throw in war, inflation, a crypto collapse, Elon Musk’s shambolic purchase of Twitter (now called X), the rise of ChatGPT and the worst strike in Hollywood since 1960, and it was disruption on steroids.
With its focus on live news and sports, Fox Corp was luckily on the sidelines of the wreckage. Lachlan’s big play since taking over at Fox had been Tubi, a quirky free streaming service with a vast library, which Fox had picked up for $US440 million in 2020. Earning all its revenue from advertising, Tubi had quickly returned the modest capital invested and was generating sensational audience growth as inflation-sensitive consumers tired of paying for expensive subscriptions. A senior Fox Corp executive tells Good Weekend that free, ad-supported streaming services were looked down upon three years ago. “It was a category that was slightly out of vogue, then we concluded the [Tubi] transaction, literally in the week that the [COVID-19] pandemic broke out … it was really the support and conviction of Lachlan that helped us drive that through. He and I worked super closely with the founder and really bringing that deal home.”
Last October, in a small meeting room next to his office in the historic Fox Studio Lot in Century City, Lachlan sat down to hear pitches on how to promote Tubi at February’s Super Bowl LVII. Marketing executive Nicole Parlapiano, who had just joined Tubi, had a bold idea: hacking into another commercial. “There was going to be a beautiful Audi, zooming through the hills,” she says, “and the TV smartbar pulls up and it opens up Tubi.” Lachlan upped the stakes: why not appear to interrupt the actual game? Instead of the “no” she’d expected, Parlapiano says Lachlan’s response was: “Yes, and …”
The ad ran before the last quarter of a tight contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles and caused a social media meltdown as fans shouted at their TVs, frantically searched for the remote and shared thousands of chaotic home videos.
Aired during the most-watched single American television broadcast ever, with 113 million viewers, the viral ad won five Cannes Lions awards. It was a marketing coup for Tubi and a vindication for Lachlan, who had in 2021 renegotiated Fox Sports’ $US24 billion agreement with the NFL, ditching Thursday night games but locking in Sunday afternoon games until 2033, in the biggest deal he’d ever done. Sitting in the corporate box with Rupert and Elon Musk – chatting about crypto, apparently – Lachlan revelled in the moment, when everything he’d worked on seemed to come together on the world’s biggest stage. His sister Elisabeth was there to soak it all up, too.
Tubi’s “Interface Interruption” 2023 Super Bowl advert won a swag of advertising awards and sent social media crazy.
Tubi broke into Nielsen’s monthly The Gauge report for the first time that February, registering one per cent of total television viewing in America. Tubi has since climbed to 1.3 per cent – the same level of viewing as Max, which includes HBO, and not far behind Disney+, on two per cent. Fox has reportedly rebuffed an offer of $US2 billion for Tubi, and a Bloomberg report in May estimated it could be worth half that again.
Tubi is still in investment phase, and sales are too low to break out in quarterly reports – less than half of Fox’s overall digital revenues, it is understood. But there’s a bigger picture in the Tubi story. Mostly serving up repeats, Tubi is at heart an engineering business which, over time, could help Fox News and Fox Sports navigate the switch to streaming. “We’re shifting towards this more direct-to-consumer model with streaming in a way that’s not damaging our core news and sports businesses,” says the Fox executive, “but there’s probably a point in time in the future where these things start to come together.”
Lachlan’s other big digital push at Fox has been into online sports betting, which for the past five years has been deregulating state by state in the US. He was quick to see the potential and via a series of deals in 2019 wound up with a three per cent stake in Flutter, the Irish gambling giant that also owns SportsBet in Australia. That stake has more than doubled in value, worth almost a billion dollars at current stock prices, and came with a valuable option allowing Fox to buy 19 per cent of Flutter’s FanDuel – the leading sports betting app in the US – at a fixed price. Fox is well poised.
Another strategy day at Chartwell will be held this month and Cheesbrough, recently appointed chief executive of Fox’s Tubi Media division, will again develop the agenda with Lachlan. Artificial intelligence, and how traditional media companies can collaborate to protect their content, including using blockchain, will feature heavily.
Lachlan Murdoch may be heading in the right direction with his digital strategy but, as yet, neither Tubi nor sports betting have contributed to Fox Corp’s operating earnings, which hit $US3.2 billion last year and according to some analysts may have peaked as viewers abandon cable TV. Fox News remains the cash cow that still accounts for roughly 80 per cent of pre-tax profits – but it’s facing structural headwinds and a dark cloud of pending litigation.
Last year, Lachlan Murdoch gave a fiery speech to launch the Centre for the Australian Way of Life, a pet project of the best friend he has in politics, the arch-climate sceptic and former prime minister Tony Abbott. Attached to right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which Lachlan’s grandfather Keith Murdoch helped found, the event in Sydney gave Lachlan a chance to rail against the media “elites” and tech platforms that he felt censured debate on lockdowns, border closures, and mask and vaccine mandates through the pandemic. It was a rare public outing for Lachlan, who unlike his father tends to keep his views to himself. While pushing back against liberal media bias, he stayed well clear of Trump, the 2020 election or the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
At the 2022 launch of the Centre for the Australian Way of Life, Lachlan gave a rare public airing of his political views, including railingagainst censorship by media “elites” and Big Tech during the pandemic.
Lachlan is not responsible for the editorial line at Fox News – that’s the job of network chief Suzanne Scott, the tough-as-nails former loyal lieutenant to its late founder, Roger Ailes – but he’s had to correct course sharply since taking over. The first time came after Fox News became the first network to call the swing state of Arizona for Joe Biden during the 2020 US presidential election coverage. Fox News suffered an unprecedented ratings collapse, falling from the top cable channel to third in the space of a week, behind CNN and MSNBC, as the Trump base defected to upstart networks Newsmax and One America News on the right.
Fox went on a war footing. Rupert, Lachlan and Suzanne Scott agreed on a new strategy to win Trump loyalists back: give airtime to the outgoing president’s claims that the election was stolen. Scott wrote to Lachlan that after the Arizona call “we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them”. He responded: “Yes. But needs constant rebuilding without any missteps.” Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti emailed that she was “glad the panic button was hit”. A week later, Rupert Murdoch emailed Scott: “We don’t want to antagonise Trump further … everything at stake here.”
The strategy worked: Fox News started to win back the audience, but in the process helped undermine confidence in the election among conservatives. The Fox board members Paul Ryan, a former Republican house speaker, and venture capitalist Anne Dias privately urged the Murdochs to disavow the stolen election claims. On January 11, Dias stuck her neck out, emailing both Rupert and Lachlan directly: “Considering how important Fox News has been as a megaphone for Donald Trump, directly or indirectly, I believe the time has come for Fox News or for you, Lachlan, to take a stance …” Lachlan forwarded it to Rupert, who replied: “Just tell her we have been talking internally and intensely along these lines, and Fox News, which called the election correctly, is pivoting as fast as possible. We have to lead our viewers, which is not as easy as it might seem.”
A week later, Rupert Murdoch emailed Scott: “We don’t want to antagonise Trump further … everything at stake here.”
Lachlan did not publicly disavow the insurrection and has not done so since. Dias will retire from the Fox board in November. Joining it will be Lachlan’s friend, conservative former Australian PM Tony Abbott.
Two months after the January 6, 2021 attack, with the pandemic still raging in the US, Lachlan and Sarah moved back to their home in Sydney’s Bellevue Hill, where they’ve remained ever since. Media reports at the time suggested the Murdochs were sick of being ostracised in liberal-leaning Hollywood, but Lachlan’s representatives have flatly denied that was a factor in a decision they say was taken purely for family reasons. Lachlan spends roughly every second week back in Los Angeles, and they say it’s a mark of his commitment to his wife and kids that he would put up with the taxing commute and the inevitable criticism in the US for being an absent CEO. How sustainable the arrangement is, long-term, remains to be seen but for the foreseeable future, the global headquarters of Fox and News will be a mansion in Bellevue Hill.
Lachlan and wife Sarah returned to Sydney in early 2021 for family reasons as the pandemic continued to rage in the US.Credit: MEDIA-MODE.COM
In early 2021, both Dominion and Smartmatic sued Fox for defamation, filing bombshell affidavits claiming $US1.6 billion and $US2.7 billion in damages in Delaware and New York respectively. The heart of Fox’s defence, masterminded by chief legal and policy officer Viet Dinh, was that Trump’s stolen election claims were newsworthy and that the first amendment protected neutral reporting of such public interest matters. Fox tried and failed to have the cases dismissed on first amendment grounds. Dominion’s lawyers then moved through discovery and took sworn confidential testimony from Fox News talent, executives and directors, including Rupert and Lachlan. Redacted evidence and deposition transcripts were released in February, just days after Fox Sports’ triumph at the Super Bowl, doing enormous damage to the Fox case.
Still mentally agile at 91, Rupert went toe to toe with Dominion’s lawyers, but conceded that Fox anchors had endorsed the baseless stolen election claims – an admission that undermined the neutral reporting defence. Viet Dinh’s deposition, acknowledging Fox News executives had an obligation to prevent known falsehoods going to air, was not helpful, either.
In March, Delaware judge Eric Davis ruled Fox News knew the allegations it had aired about Dominion were false, and that the 20 broadcasts in dispute were defamatory per se. Fox’s legal strategy was by now in tatters, and Lachlan was keen to ensure his ageing father did not have to undergo a public cross-examination in what loomed as the “media trial of the century”. On April 18, as the first day of hearings was about to get underway, Fox and Dominion settled for $US787.5 million – about half the damages claimed.
Fox shares, down almost 10 per cent since the Dominion evidence first came out in February, hardly budged, however. Fox had more than $US4 billion in cash on its balance sheet, and a large settlement had already been priced into the stock. Investors had calculated the payout would be tax-deductible as a cost of doing business and likely covered by insurance.
A settlement in the Smartmatic lawsuit is also predicted. Some US legal experts think it could be as high as $US1 billion, but Fox insists the case is completely different because the First Amendment defence will be available in New York, and that the damages are wildly overstated given Smartmatic’s only US voting machine contract was in LA county, and it had no other American business to lose. A trial is expected in 2025.
A number of Fox shareholders, including the Oregon and New York state pension funds, have joined class action lawsuits alleging directors breached their fiduciary duty by allowing the stolen election claims to go to air. Fox says it will defend all these cases vigorously but, after Dominion, it seems litigants are queuing up around the corner.
For the buccaneering Murdochs, a Dominion-size payout is hardly unprecedented. In today’s money, billions have been written off on investments such as failed telco One.Tel and social media pioneer MySpace, and a toppy price was paid for Dow Jones in 2007 before the GFC struck. There have been huge litigation settlements: News America Marketing paid out $US655 million to a number of firms which alleged predatory conduct. Earlier this year, the cost to settle claims for phone hacking in the UK – still the mother of all Murdoch scandals – crossed the £1 billion mark and the cost is still rising, with cases brought by Prince Harry and others making their way through the British courts.
Lachlan told investors in September that there would be no change in the centre-right programming strategy at Fox News after the Dominion settlement. But the network has become much more cautious about airing unchecked claims that the last US election was stolen and, notably, any Trump appearances on the network have been pre-taped.
Fox News’ top-rated host Tucker Carlson was fired with 10 minutes’ notice after a controversial text surfaced.
Three days after deciding to settle the Dominion case, Lachlan met Fox News chief Suzanne Scott. They made a huge programming decision: to drop Tucker Carlson, their network’s biggest star and most controversial personality. Carlson was not the worst offender in the Dominion case but his position had been weakened when one of his producers, Abby Grossberg, filed a lawsuit against Fox News, making a string of allegations including that Tucker Carlson Tonight was a toxic and chauvinistic workplace. Fox News fired Grossberg, describing her case as meritless, but three months later settled her claim for $US12 million.
In the days before the Dominion trial, the Fox board found out Carlson had texted one of his producers saying he’d gleefully watched three Trump supporters assault an Antifa supporter in Washington, hoping they would kill him, before feeling ashamed because that was “not how white men fight”. Fearing the text message would come out during the trial, the Fox board commissioned a law firm to investigate.
It was the last straw. Carlson did not find out until Scott called him on the morning of April 24, 10 minutes before the Fox News’ announcement. Carlson was technically benched rather than fired – Fox did not want to see him at a competing network – with a year and a half to run on a contract worth more than $US20 million annually. Fox shares dropped three per cent on the day – more than on news of the Dominion settlement – and ratings in Carlson’s 8pm timeslot halved. Two days later, Carlson began sharing homemade videos to Twitter, which have amassed more than a billion views. Fox declined to comment on Carlson, but a top company executive tells Good Weekend the decision to cancel his show was taken “quite independently and bravely, against what the ratings impact would be”.
After Tucker Carlson Tonight was cancelled, a number of its producers were fired. When Carlson lashed out at “the women who run the network”, Fox insiders saw it as his trademark sexism. It was also a none-too-subtle dig at Lachlan Murdoch himself, who is criticised by some for being hands-off at Fox News. Carlson was undoubtedly a favourite of Lachlan – a new book by Rupert Murdoch’s biographer Michael Wolff makes the improbable claim that Lachlan wanted Carlson to run for president – but the Fox chief has shown he’s prepared to put feelings of friendship aside when it comes to business.
Benching Carlson served as a reminder to all at Fox News that nobody is bigger than the network, and executives point to the list of former superstars who have failed to regain their prominence after leaving: Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace. “The bottom line is there’s not one person who has left Fox News that has wildly succeeded,” a Fox News insider says. In mid-July, Fox News unveiled a new primetime lineup, featuring as Carlson’s replacement veteran Jesse Watters, who has regained top spot in his timeslot. “Fox News literally makes stars, okay?” the insider says. “We cultivate them and we make them.” Though the post-Tucker ratings drop was nerve-wracking for the network, Lachlan told the September earnings call that “Fox News’s leadership position was never at risk”.
Though there has been a backlash on the right – including from Trump himself, who is constantly criticising Fox News – there’s been little praise on the left for the decision to cancel Tucker Carlson Tonight. “The way he was fired and the fact he was not fully buttoned up to ensure he couldn’t espouse his poison on other outlets was deeply irresponsible,” says a source familiar with the Murdoch family dynamic. “Not only have they created a competitor for their own network, they’ve unleashed another anti-democratic force into the wild.”
With America split down the middle, spiralling towards an even more divisive Biden v Trump rematch in the 2024 presidential election, it is perhaps unsurprising that Lachlan Murdoch might prefer to take sanctuary in Australia, where his swish-tailed Gulfstream is parked at Sydney Airport’s corporate terminal more often than not. Lachlan and his family, including teenage daughter Aerin, watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup avidly. He no doubt enjoyed the handy ratings surge for Fox Sports, which carried the competition back in the US. Even better, as number one ticket-holder for NRL team the Brisbane Broncos, Lachlan has been stoked at the club’s resurgence from a 2020 wooden spoon nadir to charge into the 2023 grand final.
A-listers Lachlan and Sarah at Vanity Fair’s hot-ticket Oscars party in 2019.Credit: Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock
When Rupert dies, the four elder siblings on the Murdoch family trust – Prudence, Liz, Lachlan and James – will have equal votes to determine the fate of the empire. British analyst Claire Enders believes that, despite their deep political and personal divisions, it’s unlikely the siblings would elect to remove Lachlan. “There’s no chance as long as he’s performing, as long as the stock is steady, unless he does something insane,” she says. “As long as he is, you know, plodding away trying to find the right positioning, getting through this quarter, doing what he’s trying to do getting rid of these assets in Australia, why on earth would they want to replace him? He’s performing fine. He’s a perfectly reasonable chief executive.”
The populist right remains wary, often lumping Lachlan and James together as liberals.
Politically in Australia, the relationship between Lachlan and the Albanese government remains constructive, notwithstanding tensions or occasional flare-ups over coverage of the Voice to parliament, proposals to rein in mis- and disinformation, and controls on advertising for sports betting. The relationship between Murdoch and the prime minister is considered cordial, if not warm. Many believe there is zero prospect of the federal government supporting a royal commission into the Murdoch media, despite an
ongoing campaign spearheaded by Malcolm Turnbull and former ACTU president Sharan Burrow. A senate committee will report by December on a Murdoch Media Inquiry bill, introduced by Greens communications spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, which is expected to struggle for support from the major parties.
Lachlan chose not to dine with Donald Trump in August, on the occasion that Fox News’s Suzanne Scott tried in vain to persuade the former president to join the first Republican debate in Milwaukee. Lachlan has never been the political kingmaker his father was throughout his career, and does not aspire to be – he’d not even met Trump until the then Australian PM Scott Morrison’s 2019 state dinner at the White House. The populist right remains wary, often lumping Lachlan and James together as liberals. Trump’s ex-strategist Steve Bannon reacted to the announcement of Rupert’s impending retirement by describing Lachlan as “super woke”. That is laughable; while Lachlan would much rather focus on Tubi or online gambling, or digital real estate or Fox Sports, he’s not averse to waging right-wing culture wars when it suits him. And he did just appoint Tony Abbott to his Fox board.
Lachlan tries to keep a distance between himself and Fox News but, like it or not, as Fox Corp chief executive he must navigate a commercially and legally perilous course through a 2024 cycle that will be unlike any in American history. As the first US presidential candidate to have a mugshot taken defends himself in courtroom after courtroom – or, almost unimaginably, campaigns from jail – it will be necessary for Fox to cover over and over the same “Big Lie” that’s cost it almost $1 billion to date, and which is likely to rise, while keeping its grip on the Trump base. Lachlan Murdoch must negotiate an incredibly narrow passage between Trump and the truth, his network’s Scylla and Charybdis. He can’t afford another crash into either.
Paddy Manning is author of the 2022 book The Successor: The High-Stakes Life of Lachlan Murdoch. His podcast Rupert: The Last Mogul is out November.
To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.
Most Viewed in National
Source: Read Full Article