Rupert Murdoch Indoctrinates the Mob and topples Governments
2. ‘THE SUN, BREXIT and DISNEY’
Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival. As the head of a sprawling global media empire, he commanded multiple television networks, a global news service, a major publishing house and a Hollywood movie studio. His newspapers and television networks had been instrumental in amplifying the nativist revolt that was reshaping governments not just in the United States but also across the planet. His 24-hour news-and-opinion network, the Fox News Channel, had by then fused with President Trump and his base of hard-core supporters, giving Murdoch an unparalleled degree of influence over the world’s most powerful democracy.
In Britain, his London-based tabloid, The Sun, had recently led the historic Brexit crusade to drive the country out of the European Union — and, in the chaos that ensued, helped deliver Theresa May to 10 Downing Street. In Australia, where Murdoch’s power is most undiluted, his outlets had led an effort to repeal the country’s carbon tax — a first for any nation — and pushed out a series of prime ministers whose agenda didn’t comport with his own. And he was in the midst of the biggest deal of his life: Only a few weeks before his fall on Lachlan’s yacht, he shook hands on a London rooftop with Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, consummating a preliminary agreement to sell his TV and film studio, 21st Century Fox, to Disney for $52.4 billion. But control of this sprawling empire was suddenly up in the air.
3. ‘HIS 3 CHILDREN’
The four grown children had differing claims to the throne. The 61-year-old Prudence, the only child of Murdoch’s first marriage, to the Australian model Patricia Booker (whom he divorced in 1965), lived in Sydney and London and kept some distance from the family business. But the three children from Murdoch’s second marriage, to Anna Mann (whom he divorced in 1999), had spent at least parts of their lives jockeying to succeed their father. Elisabeth (50), Lachlan (47) and James (46) all grew up in the business. As children, they sat around the family’s breakfast table on Fifth Avenue, listening to their father’s tutorials on the morning papers: how the articles were selected and laid out, how many ad pages there were. All of them had imagined that his ever-growing company might one day belong to them. As friends of the Murdochs liked to say, Murdoch didn’t raise children; he raised future media moguls.
It had made for fraught family dynamics, with competing ambitions and ever-shifting alliances. Murdoch was largely responsible for this state of affairs: He had long avoided naming one of his children as his successor, deferring an announcement that might create still more friction within his family, not to mention bringing into focus his own mortality. Instead, Murdoch tried to manage the tensions, arranging for group therapy with his children and their spouses with a counselor in London who specialized in working with dynastic families. There was even a therapeutic retreat to the Murdoch ranch in Australia. But these sessions provided just another forum for power games and manipulation.
Over the years, Lachlan and James had traded roles, more than once, as heir apparent and jilted son. It was no secret to those close to the family that Murdoch had always favored Lachlan. (“But I love all of my children,” Murdoch would say when people close to him pointed out his clear preference for Lachlan.) But it was James who spent the first decades of the 21st Century helping reposition the company for the digital future — exploiting new markets around the world, expanding online offerings, embracing broadband and streaming technology — while his older brother was mostly off running his own businesses in Australia after a bitter split from their father. When Lachlan finally agreed to return to the United States in 2015, Murdoch gave him and James dueling senior titles: All the company’s divisions would report jointly to them. It was an awkward arrangement, not only because they were both putatively in charge of a single empire. James and Lachlan were very different people, with very different politics, and they were pushing the company toward very different futures: James toward a globalized, multiplatform news-and-entertainment brand that would seem sensible to any attendee of Davos or reader of The Economist; Lachlan toward something that was at once out of the past and increasingly of the moment — an unabashedly nationalist, far-right and hugely profitable political propaganda machine.
4. FAMILY TRUST - 21st Century Fox and News Corp
Only one of Murdoch’s adult children would win the ultimate prize of running the world’s most powerful media empire, but all four of them would ultimately have an equal say in the direction of its future: Murdoch had structured both of his companies, 21st Century Fox and News Corp, so that the Murdoch Family Trust held a controlling interest in them. He held four of the trust’s eight votes, while each of his adult children had only one. He could never be outvoted. But he had also stipulated that once he was gone, his votes would disappear and all the decision-making power would revert to the children. This meant that his death could set off a power struggle that would dwarf anything the family had seen while he was alive and very possibly reorder the political landscape across the English-speaking world.
As the children hurried to their father’s bedside in Los Angeles, it seemed as if that moment had finally arrived.
5. ‘HUGE MEDIA COMPANIES OWNED BY ONE FAMILY' .
Media power has historically accrued slowly, over the course of generations,
which is one reason it tends to be concentrated in dynastic families. The Graham
family owned The Washington Post for 80 years before selling it to
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos. William R. Hearst III still presides over the
Hearst Corporation, whose roots can be traced to his great-grandfather, the
mining-baron-turned-United-States-senator George Hearst. The New York
Times has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family for more than a
The right-wing populist wave that looked like a fleeting cultural phenomenon a few years ago has turned into the defining political movement of the times, disrupting the world order of the last half-century. The Murdoch empire did not cause this wave. But more than any single media company, it enabled it, promoted it and profited from it. Across the English-speaking world, the family’s outlets have helped elevate marginal demagogues, mainstream ethnonationalism and politicize the very notion of truth. The results have been striking. It may not have been the family’s mission to destabilize democracies around the world, but that has been its most consequential legacy.
Over the last six months, we have spoken to more than 150 people across three
continents about the Murdochs and their empire — some who know the family
intimately, some who have helped them achieve their aims, some who have fought
against them with varying degrees of success. (Most of these people insisted on
anonymity to share intimate details about the family and its business so as not
to risk retribution.)
But what we as reporters had not fully appreciated until now is the extent to which these two stories — one of an illiberal, right-wing reaction sweeping the globe, the other of a dynastic media family — are really one.
6. ‘Politicians know what Murdoch wants, - 'I’VE NEVER ASKED A PRIME MINISTER FOR ANYTHING’
To see Fox News as an arm of the Trump White House risks missing the larger picture. It may be more accurate to say that the White House — just like the prime ministers’ offices in Britain and Australia — is just one tool among many that this family uses to exert influence over world events.
What do the Murdochs want? Family dynamics are complex, too, and media
dynasties are animated by different factors — workaday business imperatives, the
desire to pass on wealth, an old-fashioned sense of civic duty.
Murdoch began with a small regional paper in Australia, inherited from his father. He quickly expanded the business into a national and then an international force, in part by ruthlessly using his platform to help elect his preferred candidates and then ruthlessly using those candidates to help extend his reach.
Murdoch’s news empire is a monument to decades’ worth of transactional relationships with elected officials. Murdoch has said that he “never asked a prime minister for anything.” But press barons don’t have to ask when their media outlets can broadcast their desires. Politicians know what Murdoch wants, and they know what he can deliver: the base, their voters — power.
The Murdoch approach to empire building has reached its apotheosis in the
Trump era. Murdoch had long dreamed of having a close relationship with an
(Murdoch was photographed last year on the beach reading “Utopia for Realists,” by Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian who later told Tucker Carlson in an interview that Carlson was a “millionaire funded by billionaires.”) VIDEO
The other is a proudly crass American who vacations at his own country
clubs, dines on fast food and watches a lot of TV. But they are each a son of an
aspiring empire builder, and their respective dynasties shared the same core
value — growth through territorial conquest — and employed the same methods to
achieve it, leveraging political relationships to gain power and influence.
Murdoch has carefully built an image during his six decades in media as a pragmatist who will support liberal governments when it suits him. Yet his various news outlets have inexorably pushed the flow of history to the right across the Anglosphere, whether they were advocating for the United States and its allies to go to war in Iraq in 2003, undermining global efforts to combat climate change or vilifying people of color at home or from abroad as dangerous threats to a white majority.
Even as his empire grew — traversing oceans, countries and media — Murdoch
saw to it that it would always remain a family business. Underpinning it was a
worldview that the government was the enemy of an independent media and a
business model that depended nonetheless on government intervention to advance
his interests and undermine those of his competitors.
It would be impossible for an empire as sprawling as Murdoch’s to be
completely culturally and ideologically consistent. He is a businessman who
wants to satisfy his customers.
Most dynasties break apart eventually, as decision-making power is dispersed
across individuals and generations with different attitudes about their family
business and the world in general.
The challenge would be holding it together.
7. ‘RUPERT MURDOCH'S FATHER - A PRESS DICTATORSHIP’
To understand how the Murdoch empire works, it is essential to return to its origins. On the day in 1931 that Rupert Murdoch was born, his father, Keith Murdoch, was in the midst of his first campaign to elect a prime minister from his newsroom in Australia. As a young newspaperman, Keith gained fame by evading military censors to report on the slaughter of his countrymen during the British-led Gallipoli campaign of World War I. He leveraged that fame to become a powerful executive at the Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times news company, a position that he in turn leveraged to punish his enemies and reward his allies: The candidate he was supporting for prime minister, Joseph Lyons, earlier helped Keith overcome regulatory restrictions to start a radio station for his company in Adelaide, according to the historian Tom Roberts’s 2015 biography of Murdoch’s father, “Before Rupert.” Lyons won, and as Keith saw it, Australia’s new leader served at his pleasure: “I put him there,” he reportedly said when the two later squabbled. “And I’ll put him out.”
As Keith was creating one of the country’s first national news chains, a regional Australian newspaper editorialized about the danger of his ambitions, warning, Roberts wrote, that he was creating “a press dictatorship for all Australia with Murdoch-inspired leaders and Murdoch-trained reporters.” Bound up with Keith’s business interests were ideological inclinations not just about how power should work but also about who should be allowed to exercise it: He was a member of the Eugenics Society of Victoria and in an editorial once wrote that the great question facing Britain was “will she, if needs be, fight — for a White Australia?”
Keith never built a true media empire. He did own two regional newspapers, one of which had to be sold to pay off his death duties when he died suddenly in 1952. That left only the 75,000-circulation News of Adelaide for his 21-year-old son, who was finishing his degree at Oxford. But Rupert Murdoch had already received something much more valuable from his father: an extended tutorial in how to use media holdings to extract favors from politicians.
8. ‘MURDOCH controls 2/3 of Australian newspapers
His first order of business was to establish a proper Murdoch-owned empire in Australia. After buying a couple of additional local papers, he founded the country’s first national general-interest newspaper, The Australian, which gave him a powerful platform to help elect governments that eased national regulations designed to limit the size of media companies.
He would eventually take control of nearly two-thirds of the national newspaper market.
A 2007 study found that the introduction of the network on a particular cable
system pushed local voters to the right: the Fox
News Effect, as it became known. In a 2014 Pew Research poll, a
majority of self-described
conservatives said it was the only news network
Fifty years and an untold number of deals after taking possession of The
News of Adelaide, Murdoch had arrived at the pinnacle of global influence.
13. VIEWED AS ENTITLED by Executives, LACHLAN LEAVES and JAMES TAKES OVER
Murdoch’s success in building his empire inevitably raised the question of who would rule it after he was gone. As he grew older, he would often say privately that he didn’t want to become another Sumner Redstone, the aging media mogul who had refused to cede control of CBS and Viacom, even as he was losing the ability to speak or eat unassisted. But as he turned 75, and then 80, Murdoch, too, had declined to lay out a plan for the future of his empire.
Initially he favored Lachlan, installing him as the general manager of
one of his Australian newspaper chains at age 22 and overseeing his rise
to the post of deputy chief operating officer of News Corp by age 33.
14. James was out and Lachlan RETURNS
But by the summer of 2015, Murdoch, now 84, had changed his mind: James
was out, and Lachlan was once again next in line.
James was livid. The two brothers and their father had explicitly discussed succession not even two years earlier. James was supposed to take over, and Lachlan would never assume more than a symbolic role. As James saw it, he had not only been promised the job; he had earned it. He had devoted years of his life to trying to build the company — moving his family to Hong Kong and London, making monthly trips to Mumbai to push the family’s satellite-TV businesses into emerging technology and new markets — while his brother was off in Australia spearfishing and making dubious investments. Angry and appalled, James threatened to quit, heading straight from lunch to the airport for a flight to Indonesia.
15. James used to be the young rebel - and married a Liberal
With a clipped, near-British accent and a penchant for wearing bluejeans and
espadrilles, James reads as an archetype of today’s global power elite.
Years ago, he was the family rebel, piercing his ears, dyeing his hair and
having a light bulb tattooed on his right arm. As an undergraduate at Harvard,
James flirted with becoming a medieval historian and joined the staff of
The Harvard Lampoon before dropping out in 1995 to follow the Grateful Dead and
start an independent hip-hop label, Rawkus Records, whose artists included Talib
Kweli and Mos Def. A year later, his father bought Rawkus and brought James
into News Corp, ending his short-lived foray outside the family business.
Even inside his father’s empire, James continued to view himself in
idealistic terms, as the one best suited to drag the sprawling, often
backward-thinking company into the future, whether that meant making all of its
leading investments in digitally oriented businesses like Hulu or moderating the
wilder impulses of Fox News.
16. Lachlan was politically to the right of his father - "Global Warming is getting too much attention"
Lachlan identified closely with that charismatic founder. His
trajectory was very different from James’s. He shared his father’s
attachment to Australia, both to his family’s long history inside the country
and to its hypermasculine, rough-hewed culture.
Lachlan doesn’t speak publicly about his politics, but his employees
in Australia found that he took a hard line on many issues. Chris Mitchell, the
longtime editor of The Australian, recalled in his 2016 memoir, “Making
Headlines,” that “Lachlan’s conservatism is more vigorous than that
of any Australian politician” and that his views were usually to the right of his father’s.
Lachlan viewed his brother as a good executive, but he felt that he
was the one who had taken risks and proved himself in Australia.
Murdoch had been trying for years to coax Lachlan back from Australia. Murdoch’s 2013 divorce from his third wife, Wendi Murdoch, helped change Lachlan’s mind.
17. Rupert's new wife calling him “old” and “stupid"
He and James had tried to talk their father out of marrying Wendi
over a 1999 dinner at the Manhattan restaurant Babbo — she was the rare subject
on which the two sons agreed — and both of them had grown even less fond of her
in the years that followed.
18. Feuding sons jointly own the Corp.
James warily agreed to the terms, but the question of succession was
not fully resolved.
Lachlan described the transition as “seamless.”
19. Murdoch was deeply entwined with the Trump family
20. FOX RESISTS TRUMP - -- ‘NO CLOWN COULD HAVE DONE ALL THIS!’
Fox News’s initial resistance to promoting his candidacy came as an unpleasant surprise to Trump, who had assumed that his relationships with Murdoch and Ailes would ensure positive coverage. Ailes had even written Trump an email asking what he could do to help him. (After scrawling an enthusiastic note on top, Trump sent a printout of that email to his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.)
During the campaign’s early months, it fell mostly to Ailes to manage the network’s tumultuous relationship with Trump, who complained constantly that Fox favored Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Trump was driven into a near-weekly rage by the Fox News host Bret Baier’s Friday-night segment, “Candidate Casino.” Opening with a graphic of a spinning roulette wheel and Vegas-style lights, Baier and his round table of political analysts would place bets on the probable party nominees. Even though Trump was winning in most of the polls, Baier’s parlor of experts regularly placed him toward the bottom of the pack.
It was especially galling to Trump because he and Baier had golfed together, and Baier had briefly been a member at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. (Baier dropped his membership when it became clear that Trump was likely to run for the presidency.) After the Fox contributor and Weekly Standard editor Stephen F. Hayes called Trump “a clown,” Trump faxed Baier a copy of his résumé, with a note scrawled across it in black marker: “Tell Hayes no clown could have done all this!” Trump even complained about Fox while appearing on Fox, ticking off, during a live interview with Sean Hannity, the contributors who should be fired because they were “biased” against him.
Trump wasn’t without leverage in his relationship with Fox. The Murdoch formula was to deliver the enthusiasm of reactionary readers and viewers to chosen candidates, but Trump was already generating plenty of enthusiasm on his own. His hard-core supporters made up Fox’s core audience, and his social media accounts gave him a direct connection to them. If these supporters had to choose between Trump and Fox, Ailes might not like the results.
At the same time, a new crop of right-wing outlets — Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, One America News, Sinclair — were embracing his candidacy, and mainstream broadcasters were no less aware of what he could do for their ratings. “I can go on the ‘Today’ show in my pajamas, and five million people will watch,” he warned Ailes, a former Trump campaign official recalled.
After the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Trump,
during the first Republican primary debate in the summer of 2015, to defend his
comments about women — “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs
and disgusting animals” — Trump demanded that Ailes force her to
publicly apologize, according to the former Trump campaign official. (She
Kushner was privately lobbying Murdoch to reconsider his attitude toward his father-in-law, showing him videos of the candidate’s overflowing campaign rallies on his iPhone.
Even as Trump gained momentum, Murdoch continued to look for alternatives. Over the summer of 2015, he wrote a personal check for $200,000 to the super PAC of Gov. John Kasich, the relatively moderate Republican from Ohio, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
21. Kathryn sells Hillary Clinton to Murdoch
Aware of her father-in-law’s dim view of Trump, James’s wife, Kathryn, tried to broker a meeting between Murdoch and Hillary Clinton. Having worked for the Clinton Climate Initiative, she knew both the Clintons and their inner circle of advisers and hoped Murdoch might consider an endorsement, or at least commit to staying neutral. The idea was not so far-fetched. Murdoch had, after all, backed Tony Blair, a Clinton-style Labor Party centrist, and had once even hosted a Senate fund-raiser for Hillary. Murdoch felt he didn’t need his daughter-in-law’s help. In fact, he called Clinton personally, leaving a message at her campaign headquarters. Clinton called back almost immediately but declined his invitation to meet with him. (A spokesman for Clinton did not respond to a request for comment.)
23. NATIONALISM in AUSTRIA, PHILIPPINES, HUNGRY and UK's BREXIT is fueled by The SUN's Propaganda
Across the Atlantic, a similar right-wing wave was threatening to drive
Britain out of the European Union. Murdoch had a hand in that
The idea of Britain’s splitting from the E.U. had always seemed
more like a nativist fever dream than a realistic political goal. But in 2016,
Brexit proponents could scan the globe and see cause for optimism.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, The Sun led the London tabloids in hammering the case for leaving the European Union. It cast Brexit as a choice between the “arrogant europhiles” and the country’s working class, while railing against “mass immigration which keeps wages low and puts catastrophic pressure on our schools, hospitals, roads and housing stock.” It still looked like a long shot, and Murdoch’s other British newspaper, the more sober Times, had encouraged its wealthier and more politically moderate readers to vote in favor of remaining in the European Union. But The Sun was where Murdoch’s heart — and influence — lay.
24. 'News of the World' PHONE HACKING Scandal
It was a corporate scandal, but because of the nature of this corporation, it was also a family matter. James blamed his father for having allowed the freebooting, anything-goes culture to take root at the paper and for forcing him to absorb so much of the blame for the scandal, when the hacking itself took place before he took charge. As James saw it, his father was angry that he wouldn’t conduct a cover-up; James went so far as to tell some members of the board that he was concerned about Murdoch’s mental health.
For his part, Murdoch blamed James for surrounding himself with feckless, sycophantic advisers who failed to neutralize the crisis when it still could have been contained.
Elisabeth, having long been out of the succession mix, reinserted herself, urging her father to fire James and replace him with her, four people familiar with the conversations told us. (Through a spokesperson, Elisabeth denied that she encouraged her brother’s firing or asked for his job.)
Murdoch agreed to fire James but reversed his decision before it became public.
Lachlan used the opportunity to play the family savior in a time of
crisis, calling his father from Bangkok — en route to Britain from
Australia — to urge him not to do anything rash.
The public shaming did not end with the scandal — a worldwide news event for months — or the interrogation by Parliament.
A judicial inquiry investigated the practices of the British press, with
Murdoch’s papers front and center.
In their discussions with Murdoch, “politicians knew that the prize was personal and political support in his mass-circulation newspapers.”
By the time the Leveson Report was released in 2012, Murdoch had shut down The News of the World and was keeping a low profile in Britain.
26. BREXIT accomplished - helped by The SUN
Several factors accounted for his return in 2016, including his recent marriage to his fourth wife, Jerry Hall. They met in Australia, where Hall was playing Mrs. Robinson in a stage adaptation of “The Graduate.” Hall had a teenage son in London, and she and Murdoch were spending a lot of time in the 26-room house that she owned with her former partner, Mick Jagger.
Now back in the city where he once wooed Margaret Thatcher, Murdoch used Britain’s largest tabloid to rally readers to vote to leave the European Union.
The Sun’s cover on the day of the Brexit referendum was a picture of corporate synergy: “Independence Day: Britain’s Resurgence,” it read, over a mock version of The Poster for the 21st Century Fox movie “Independence Day: Resurgence,” which opened in Britain that day.
Murdoch flew in to London from Cannes for the vote and soon visited the
newsroom of the anti-Brexit Times to gloat, joking to his
reporters about their glum faces.
The referendum represented the realization of a long-deferred dream for
Murdoch. But it also returned him to a position of influence in British politics
that seemed inconceivable just a few years earlier. Not only had The Sun
played a critical role in delivering the Brexit vote, but in the ensuing
political upheaval, it had swung behind Theresa May, helping ensure her
election as prime minister.
It was James and Lachlan who teamed up to push Ailes
out, over the initial objections of their father. Ailes was another rare
subject on which the two sons agreed, though they disliked him for different
reasons. Lachlan had clashed repeatedly with Ailes early in his
career in New York. He told friends that he reached his breaking point with his
father in 2005 when he learned that Murdoch had said to Ailes, “Don’t
worry about the boy.”
James saw in Ailes’s exit an opportunity to push the network in
a new direction. He wanted to bring in an experienced news executive who would
reposition it as a more responsible, if still conservative, outlet — one whose
hosts would no longer be free to vent without adhering to basic standards of
accuracy, fairness and, as he saw it, decency. One candidate he had in mind was
David Rhodes. Then the president of CBS News, Rhodes was a former
Fox News executive, as well as the brother of Ben Rhodes, a
foreign-policy adviser for Obama.
Rather than replace Ailes with a new executive, Murdoch moved into his
office and took over the job himself, a short-term solution intended to reassure
both shareholders and talent.
Having once dismissed Trump’s candidacy, Murdoch now threw himself wholly behind it.
30. Murdoch decides to take full control of Sky but fails, thanks to the Phone Hacking Scandal and OFCOM. - Survives the intended axe from Cameron.
31. James makes a stab at SKY again
Lachlan and others inside 21st Century Fox were
concerned about James’s leading this second Sky bid, given how
closely associated he had been with the hacking scandal and with the family’s
first failed attempt to gain full control of the satellite company.
Not only had the Murdochs shut down The News of the World, the
newspaper that had been found guilty of widespread hacking;
The company that would be purchasing Sky, 21st Century Fox,
had thus been separated from the family’s newspapers.
One other factor made the proposed deal especially attractive. Thanks to Brexit, the Murdochs would be getting full ownership of Sky at the steeply discounted price of $14.8 billion if the deal went through. The British government was paralyzed, unable to reach an agreement to implement the break with the European bloc.
Foreign companies were pulling out of Britain, destabilizing the country’s job market and the economy and, in turn, significantly depressing the value of the English pound — and with it, the price of Sky’s shares.
All that needed to happen was for the government to approve the deal. With the Sky bid once again pending before Ofcom, James embarked on a campaign of contrition and humility designed to convince the British establishment that he and his family business could be trusted to own Sky.
32. ‘Lachlan creates a FOX NEWS in Australia using SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA’
Even as James was pursuing his bid to take full control of Sky in Britain, the company’s Australian division — Lachlan’s domain — was closing a much smaller but still significant deal for the family to take full control of a different Sky subsidiary: Sky News Australia, which it jointly owned with two Australian media companies. It was the country’s only 24-hour cable news channel and an unexploited opportunity for influence on another continent.
The Murdochs’ newspaper holdings accounted for some 60 percent of the
Australian print market, and included the country’s sole national
general-interest paper, The Australian.
Over the previous decade, Murdoch papers helped push out two different prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. When Gillard’s treasurer, Wayne Swan, was worried that the Murdoch attacks were hurting the national economy, he sought out Lachlan to make an appeal, Swan told us.
Lachlan built alliances, too, drawing close to Tony Abbott, a member
of Parliament whose right-wing politics and confrontational style had earned him
frequent comparisons to Newt Gingrich.
Now Murdoch’s Australian empire was expanding into cable news. The country’s
dominant broadcaster was the Australian Broadcast Corporation, a publicly
financed institution modeled after the BBC.
Sky News Australia — which also airs in New Zealand — was,
notionally, a competitor, but its audience was small, even by Australian
With the acquisition of Sky News Australia, Lachlan would have a second chance.
The Murdochs won full control of the network in December 2016, while James’s Sky deal in Britain was still pending.
Sky News Australia’s programming had historically been politically balanced. But as the Murdochs’ takeover approached, the network began increasing the amount of right-wing commentary it broadcast during prime time.
Not long before the deal closed, Lachlan’s old Ten host Andrew Bolt was brought in to do a nightly political program.
Immediately after the purchase, Sky signed up as a host and commentator Caroline Marcus, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph of Sydney who had supported a ban on burkinis in France and lamented what she described as reverse discrimination against whites in cultural debates.
Ross Cameron — a former member of the Australian Parliament prone to
anti-gay slurs who later spoke
at an event hosted by a far-right organization
that describes itself as Australia’s leading anti-Islamic group — co-hosted a
program called “The Outsiders.”
Known as Sky After Dark, the opinion-heavy, almost-uniformly
right-wing lineup was an entirely new phenomenon in
33. Murdoch hires Tucker Carlson - supporting Trump
By the early months of 2017, Murdoch’s interim leadership of Fox News,
which started with Ailes’s ouster before the election, was now beginning
to look permanent.
Even as Murdoch was elevating Shine, numerous accusations — some of them in lawsuits against Ailes — were surfacing that Shine had protected and even enabled Ailes during his years of allegedly sexually harassing women at the network. (Shine has denied any wrongdoing.)
After the election, Murdoch moved even more forcefully to support Trump.
When Greta Van Susteren, a former CNN host and a somewhat
ideologically unpredictable presence in the Fox lineup, left the network,
Murdoch enthusiastically endorsed the idea of replacing her at 7 p.m. with
Tucker Carlson — a conservative writer and a founder of the Daily
Caller website who was earning praise from white
nationalists heading into Trump’s election.
When Megyn Kelly, who sealed her fame by clashing with Trump, left Fox in early 2017, Murdoch opted not to replace her with another Trump antagonist.
Murdoch also kept in close touch with the White House. He and
Kushner had always spoken frequently, but now he was in regular contact with
Now it was Murdoch reaching out to Trump on a regular basis. “Rupert, Rupert!” Trump would say, talking on the phone with Murdoch in the Oval Office, according to a former White House official who overheard the conversations. “You love the action, don’t you? You can’t get enough of this shit.”
Years earlier, when James was fighting in Britain for the first failed Sky deal, he expressed contempt for government meddling in the media’s affairs and impugned the nationally esteemed BBC as a “chilling” media monolith. “The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence,” he said in a lecture at the annual Edinburgh International Television Festival, “is profit.”
In the spring of 2017, as James made the rounds with civic and
business leaders in London, he took a far more conciliatory tack. He praised the
BBC and assured former critics that he respected Britain’s strict
regulations designed to ensure impartiality in England’s news coverage.
Even as James was in the midst of this campaign, the company’s behavior was once again threatening to jeopardize the Sky deal. In April 2017, The New York Times reported that the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and the network had doled out some $13 million to address multiple complaints from women about O’Reilly’s lewd comments and unwanted advances and that Fox had nevertheless renewed his contract for $25 million.
Ofcom was soon receiving submissions from O’Reilly’s victims. Lisa Bloom, a lawyer representing one of his accusers, drew a direct link between Fox’s sexual-harassment scandals and the phone hacking: Both, she wrote, revealed “a lack of oversight, intervention and decency.”
After James and several other senior executives from 21st Century
Fox were grilled about the company’s culture by Ofcom regulators
in the agency’s headquarters overlooking the Thames, the Murdochs scrambled to
protect their Sky bid.
When rumors started circulating that Ailes’s once-loyal lieutenant, Shine, might be next, Hannity tried to protect him, sensing that his old friend and ally was about to become a victim of the Murdochs’ broader global agenda: “Somebody HIGH UP AND INSIDE FNC is trying to get an innocent person fired,” he tweeted, presumably referring to James. Shine was pushed out, too.
In June 2017, Ofcom finally issued its report on the acquisition: It recommended that the deal be reviewed by yet another regulatory body. The Competition and Markets Authority would investigate whether Sky would give the Murdochs too much influence over the British media.
The decision set off still more scrambling. To prevent any potential problems with the British regulators, Fox executives directed a furious Hannity to dial down his coverage of the death of a Democratic National Committee staff member named Seth Rich, which had spurred wild conspiracy theories and wide public criticism, as well as an advertiser boycott.
The Murdochs also pulled Fox News off the air in Britain, where it had been the subject of several formal complaints of “unfair and inaccurate content.”
(A separate investigation by British regulators found that Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson had violated British impartiality standards:
To prevent any potential problems with the British regulators, the Murdochs pulled Fox News off the air in Britain.
38. British Government: "No member of the Murdoch family should ever be allowed to serve in any capacity at Sky" - ‘PEOPLE JUST DON’T TRUST YOU’
In September 2017, James delivered the keynote address at the Royal Television Society’s annual convention in Cambridge, using the occasion to make the case for the Sky deal and to sketch out his vision for the future of the global media company that he still hoped to run.
He ticked off some of 21st Century Fox’s better-known brands — National Geographic, FX, Fox Sports, Sky Atlantic — and described how these and other outlets had “explored the opioid epidemic, gender identity and race relations” and “told powerful stories of slavery in America, the rights of women in Pakistan and the coming and inevitable exploration of Mars.”
Absent from his list, and from his entire address, was one of 21st Century Fox’s best-known brands, Fox News. In the question-and-answer session that followed, an interviewer speculated about why the deal was taking so long. “I wonder if the message that comes through,” she said, “is that you presided over this rotten culture at News International and, again, at Fox News, and that people just don’t trust you. Is that what you think the message is?”
That November, a bipartisan coalition of British members of Parliament took
their concerns about the deal to a hearing in Victoria House on Southampton Row,
the headquarters of the Competition and Markets Authority. They were led by Ed
Miliband, a former leader of the Labor Party and a supporter of
antimonopoly media legislation who had tangled with the Murdochs a couple of
years earlier, when The Sun fulminated against his candidacy for
prime minister, dubbing him Red Ed and Shameful Mili.
If the Murdochs gained full control of the satellite broadcast company, the M.P.s warned, they could transform its 24-hour news channel, Sky News, into a British version of Fox News.
The question of the Murdochs’ influence over the media led, inevitably, to
the question of the Murdochs’ influence over the country’s politics.
In January 2018, the Competition and Markets Authority issued its ruling on 21st Century Fox’s acquisition of Sky: Full ownership of the company would give the Murdochs “too much control over news providers in the U.K. across all media platforms (TV, radio, online and newspapers) and therefore too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda.” It was a full-blown repudiation, setting up a final ruling that no member of the Murdoch family should ever be allowed to serve in any capacity at Sky — not even on the company’s board. It would be an especially harsh blow to James, who was serving as Sky’s chairman at the time.
For Lachlan, it was a validation of his view that James was the
wrong public face of the campaign for Sky, reminding the public of the
hacking scandal and all the hostility toward the Murdochs it had stirred up.
39. Murdoch sells 21st Century Fox to Disney
In early August 2017, Rupert Murdoch invited Robert A. Iger,
the chief executive of Disney, to Moraga, his $28.8 million Tuscan-style
vineyard estate in the hills of Bel Air, and offered him a glass of wine.
Talk about combining some of their assets soon evolved into something much more significant: a conversation about Iger’s buying 21st Century Fox, the Hollywood studio that Murdoch wrested away from the Colorado oilman Marvin Davis in 1985.
For 65 years, Murdoch had been ruthlessly expanding his empire. He was now thinking about doing the most un-Murdochian thing imaginable: He was going to shrink it.
It was, in a sense, an admission of defeat. Murdoch’s ambitions had been
subverted, finally and definitively, by his own failings — the family squabbles,
the reactionary drift of Fox News, the Sky News debacle.
40. Murdoch created a monster in his own likeness, Lachlan -- whilst James and Kathryn frown on Fox News
The decision was driven not only by the imperatives of the business but also
by those of the Murdoch family.
As James saw it, his brother was mainly interested in the unique
fringe benefits and trappings of power that came with the job.
The Trump presidency was also exposing a deeper divide between the
After Trump issued his executive order banning immigration from some
Muslim-majority countries in early 2017, James pushed his father and
Lachlan to agree to write a companywide memo reassuring its Muslim employees
in the United States and abroad.
Even getting Lachlan’s approval for the watered-down version that ultimately went out was “like pulling teeth,” James would later say privately, according to people close to him.
Months later, when Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., saying that there were some “very fine people” among the white supremacists, Kathryn insisted that they write their own open letter of opposition, without consulting with his brother or father first. “If we’re not going to say something about [expletive] Nazis marching in Virginia, when are we going to say something?” she told James, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Kathryn had historically kept her complaints about the network and the
business inside the family, in accordance with the unofficial Murdoch code of
41. James aspires to control 21st Century Fox (working for Disney)
The resentment that had been steadily building between James and Lachlan over the past two and a half years exploded in the fall of 2018, as the Disney deal became a possibility, then a probability and then a reality.
James instantly seized on the idea, seeing it both as a way out of the family business and as a possible route to the biggest job in the media. He started speaking with Iger separately over lunches and meetings, discussing among other things what role he might play at Disney.
Iger was in his late 60s; his contract was set to expire in the summer of 2019, and the company had not yet named a successor.
A top job in Disney’s corporate hierarchy could put James in
the running to take over. It had long been his dream to run his family’s empire,
but Disney, when combined with 21st
Century Fox, would be more than three times
its size — the largest media conglomerate in
the world, one with no ideological baggage to prevent it from growing
and evolving further.
42. Lachlan was furious at the sale of 21st Century Fox
Lachlan was furious. His father was talking about dismantling the
empire not even three years after coaxing him back from Australia to run it, an
empire that had taken a lifetime to build.
As the talks with Iger progressed, Lachlan’s opposition
hardened. “Why the [expletive] would I want to run this company?” he told people
close to him.
Over the course of our reporting, we spoke to a dozen people with direct
knowledge of the Disney negotiations. What emerged were two diametrically
different narratives of how the next act in the history of the Murdoch dynasty
Lachlan’s perception was affirmed, they said, when his father told him
that he had received a call from a banker on the deal, reporting that James
was trying to make his future at Disney part of the negotiations. Murdoch
personally assured Iger that it wasn’t.
The family’s dysfunctional dynamics were readily apparent to Iger. Seeing James as a strong champion of the deal, he kept him close during the negotiations but never committed to offering him a specific, high-level position; publicly, he said only that he was considering the issue.
43. Disney buys 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion - finally 21st Century Fox separates from Fox News(a source of humor)
Negotiations nearly fell apart in October, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, when Murdoch called Iger to say that Disney’s valuation of the company was “inadequate” and that talks should “cease.” But they kept talking, meeting in London — Iger had come for the premiere of Disney’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — to iron out more details. On Dec. 13, 2017, they announced an initial deal valued at $52.4 billion.
Accompanying the announcement was a photograph of Iger and Murdoch,
their arms placed awkwardly on each other’s shoulders, standing on the rooftop
of a London building, St. Paul’s Cathedral looming in the background.
Inside the Murdoch empire, the incompatibility of Fox News and 21st Century Fox had long been a source of private complaint and ironic humor: “The Simpsons,” a Fox show, once parodied Fox News with a rolling news ticker featuring headlines like “Do Democrats Cause Cancer?” and “Study: 92 Percent of Democrats Are Gay.” Showrunners on the West Coast would press the Murdochs to get the network under control when a Fox News host would say something they considered offensive, for instance during the network’s coverage of the Charlottesville rally.
But for many 21st Century Fox executives, the offenses had become a nightly occurrence during the Trump era, as the network’s opinion hosts fueled white resentment and anti-immigrant furor. Now, 21st Century Fox would be merged into a company that famously and assiduously avoided politics.
44. Lachlan would take over what was left. James would not join Disney.
As for Fox News, the network would have one fewer corporate impediment preventing it from giving its viewers what they wanted.
It was in the midst of this moment — the biggest deal of his career — that the 86-year-old Murdoch tripped on his way to the bathroom on Lachlan’s yacht and had to be transported to Los Angeles. With their father laid up at the Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center at the start of 2018, Murdoch’s children descended on Los Angeles, unsure if this would be the end.
Lachlan and his wife, Sarah, met them at the hospital.
Elisabeth and her husband, Keith Tyson, came from London, James and Kathryn from New York. Murdoch’s surgery was successful.
Not long after his children arrived, his condition stabilized.
Following his near-death experience, Murdoch joked that he did not realize how serious his condition was until he had seen all his children gathered around his hospital bed.
Murdoch would be laid up for the next few months but still in command,
running things from his bedroom at Moraga.
The negotiations continued. As they did, Lachlan and James adjusted to their new realities.
Unable to secure a job at Disney that he wanted, and wary of its
aggressively safe and hierarchical culture, James decided in the winter
that he would not try to follow the family’s assets to their new home, according
to three people who are close to him.
45. Comcast offers $65 billion for 21st Century Fox. The bidding war is stopped by the Justice Department. Murdoch makes $4 billion !
In early June 2018, before the final terms were settled, another bidder
Murdoch didn’t want to sell to Comcast, according to three
people familiar with his thinking. He preferred Disney for a variety of
reasons, including his personal admiration for Iger, whom he viewed as a
risk-taking leader in his own image.
But Murdoch did like the prospect of a bidding war. And he had a potential path to securing both a higher price and his preferred buyer in the Justice Department’s ongoing lawsuit to block a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner.
Comcast’s interest in 21st Century Fox allowed Murdoch to drive up Disney’s purchase price to $71.3 billion.
Iger and his team delivered what they hoped would be their final offer personally to Murdoch in London, traveling through Ireland because they were worried that Comcast might be tracking the movement of private planes flying in and out of London from the United States. Murdoch had Disney on the hook.
His back now healed, Murdoch attended the Allen & Company media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July 2018. With Roberts and Iger nearby, he seemed exhilarated; once again, he was in the middle of the action.
The problem for Murdoch was that if Comcast made another counteroffer, he might have a fiduciary responsibility to present the offer to his board, and it might accept it, absent extenuating circumstances. He didn’t want his stalking horse to overtake his favorite.
The Trump Justice Department came to Murdoch’s rescue, appealing a federal court ruling in the AT&T and Time Warner case.
On its face, the lawsuit had nothing to do with Comcast, but because the company had its own history of tangles with government regulators, the appeal would give Murdoch the cover he needed to accept Iger’s latest bid: Comcast now looked risky. There is no evidence that the Justice Department factored Murdoch’s interests into its decision-making process; nevertheless, he had gotten another $20 billion for his company while still selling to his preferred suitor.
When the deal was finalized, Murdoch would personally make roughly
$4 billion, bringing his net worth to
$18 billion. All six of his children would receive
$2 billion each.
Media empires are built on the foresight and audacity of their leaders, their
ability to anticipate and embrace sudden changes in an industry that’s
More than anything, it’s the moving of lines, the lifting of caps and the
rewriting of rules that enable moguls to transform businesses into empires.
The Time Warner-AT&T deal was itself a good example of the ambiguities
of this bureaucratic process.
Deals like this, a “vertical merger” between two companies in separate
businesses, rarely face antitrust scrutiny.
The Justice Department antitrust enforcer who filed the government’s lawsuit against the deal, Makan Delrahim, was in fact on record saying earlier that he didn’t see it “as a major antitrust problem.”
And yet when a federal judge, Richard Leon, dismissed the Justice Department’s case, calling one of its key arguments “gossamer thin,” the government appealed, and just in time to stave off Comcast’s next bid for 21st Century Fox. The process had dragged on for more than two years.
47. Trump's role in the very quick approval of the merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox - a monopoly
The speed with which Murdoch’s Disney deal was approved stood in stark
Such deals ordinarily invite strict government scrutiny. The Department of Justice approved it in just six months.
(Fox executives credit the company’s thorough preparations for its speedy and successful review.)
After calling Murdoch to ensure that the deal wouldn’t affect Fox News, Trump had applauded it: “This could be a great thing for jobs,” his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said when asked to characterize the president’s reaction to the agreement.
Wall Street analysts predicted that the deal would result in thousands of layoffs.
48. Kushner converses with the head of the Federal Communications Commission and SINCLAIR's $3.9 billion bid for Tribune Media gets blocked
The ambiguities of the regulatory process were also evident in another deal with major implications for Murdoch’s empire.
In the spring of 2017, months before Murdoch started negotiating with Iger, the Sinclair Broadcast Group agreed to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
Sinclair was already the largest owner of
local TV stations in the country.
Murdoch had been concerned about the company’s steady growth.
With Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune, which was already in 39 percent of American households, the company would now be in more than 70 percent.
What’s more, Tribune owned WGN, an unremarkable cable channel with unexploited potential: It reached nearly 80 million homes and could easily be converted into a right-wing national news network — an instant competitor to Fox News.
In conversations with colleagues, Murdoch worried that Sinclair might hire O’Reilly as the marquee star of the new Fox rival.
Sinclair seemed to have a friend and ally not just in Trump but
also in the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai.
After he became chairman in 2017, he effectively enabled Sinclair’s bid for the Tribune stations, easing limits on how many stations a single company could own.
There was enough suspicion that Pai might be inclined to give Sinclair favorable treatment that the F.C.C.’s inspector general started an investigation into the commissioner’s relationship with the company.
But then, in the summer of 2018, Pai basically blocked the deal, announcing that he had “serious concerns” about it.
Sinclair officials said they were “shocked.”
Once again, things had broken Murdoch’s way.
The report cleared Pai of inappropriate conduct — either to help or hurt Sinclair — though it left some questions unanswered about Fox, like what Pai and Jared Kushner discussed during a conversation just before the deal was announced. Pai was asked if anyone from Fox News had tried to influence the ruling. He “responded in the negative,” the investigators wrote.
Days before Lachlan’s arrival, a national neo-Nazi leader, Blair Cottrell — who had recently been fined for “inciting contempt for Muslims” — appeared on one of the network’s shows.
Cottrell had been interviewed on Australian TV before, but his deferential treatment by Sky caused a national outcry. Under gentle questioning, he called on his countrymen to “reclaim our traditional identity as Australians” and advocated limiting immigration to those “who are not too culturally dissimilar from us,” such as white South African farmers. (Sky apologized and suspended the program.)
Inside Lachlan’s living room, the talk turned to national politics. “Do you think Malcolm is going to survive?” Lachlan asked his staff.
Malcolm was Malcolm Turnbull, the relatively moderate Australian prime minister who took office a few years earlier.
Inside the government, a small right-wing uprising had been brewing over his plans to bring Australia into compliance with the Paris climate accord.
It is well established among those who have worked for the Murdochs that the
family rarely, if ever, issues specific directives.
In the days that followed, Sky Australia’s hosts and the Murdoch
papers — the newspaper editors had their own drinks session at Lachlan’s
mansion — set about trying to throw Turnbull out of office. Alan
Jones, a Sky host and conservative radio star, called for a party
“rebellion” against him on his program.
Cheering on the challenge, Andrew Bolt, the Murdoch columnist who was once convicted of violating the country’s Racial Discrimination Act, told his Sky viewers that Turnbull’s “credibility is shot, his authority is gone.”
Peta Credlin, the commentator who was Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, chewed out a member of Parliament for the chaos inside Turnbull’s administration.
The Australian, the Murdochs’ national newspaper, was soon declaring Turnbull a “dead man walking.”
Word got back to Turnbull about Lachlan’s remark to his staff.
One of his senior aides confronted the Murdochs’ Australian
executives in a text that was shared with us.
Turnbull heard, too, that Rupert Murdoch was miffed at him because he had not reached out to him since he landed in the country, according to three former officials in Turnbull’s government. Turnbull’s chief of staff had been trying to set up a meeting with Murdoch; he now redoubled his efforts.
Turnbull settled for a phone call, pleading with Murdoch to back off. “Let me have a look at it, and let me talk to Lachlan,” Murdoch said. “I’m retired. I’ll talk to Lachlan.” (Through a spokesman, Murdoch denied that he felt slighted by Turnbull.)
Two days later, Turnbull’s right-wing opponents ousted him through a definitive intraparty vote, known in Australian politics as a leadership “spill.”
Chaos ensued, creating round-the-clock political theater for Sky Australia, which logged its highest ratings in the network’s history. (The Murdochs have denied any role in the ouster.)
50. The new Prime Minister is a right-wing nationalist !
It was always difficult to separate the personal from the financial and the
ideological with the Murdochs.
To begin with, he took office a few years earlier by ousting Lachlan’s friend Tony Abbott, and it was Abbott who helped lead the Turnbull uprising.
Turnbull’s policies were also not perfectly aligned with the Murdochs’ interests. For instance, he had expedited the construction of the country’s national broadband network, which directly threatened the family’s highly profitable cable business by giving Netflix a government-subsidized pipeline into Australian homes.
The small number of Australian media outlets that the Murdochs did not own portrayed Turnbull’s ouster as a Murdoch-led “coup.”
Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister whom the family had helped push out of office years earlier, described Murdoch in an op-ed in The Sydney Morning Herald as “ the greatest cancer on the Australian democracy.”
Turnbull was replaced by the right-wing nationalist Scott Morrison, who quickly aligned himself with Trump.
The two met in person for the first time in late 2018 at the G-20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires. “I think it’s going to be a great relationship,” Trump said afterward.
With a national election scheduled for May 2019, Morrison quickly staked his party’s prospects on the polarizing issue of immigration, promising a new hard-line approach.
It dovetailed with Sky’s regular prime-time programming.
Andrew Bolt, who previously warned of a “foreign invasion,” said in one segment, “We also risk importing ethnic and religious strife, even terrorism,” as the screen flashed an image of Australia’s potential future: rows of Muslims on a city street, bowing toward Mecca.
When the opposing Labor Party managed to muscle through legislation that would allow doctors to transfer severely sick migrants in detention centers on the islands of Nauru and Manus into hospitals in Australia, Sky Australia’s prime-time hosts went on the offensive.
51. ‘NO, I’M NOT EMBARRASSED by FOX NEWS’
The third generation of the Murdoch dynasty was finally taking control. The Disney deal was still pending regulatory approval in a few countries — the two companies had overlapping operations in China, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere — but Lachlan was already shifting to his new role as chairman and chief executive of the new Fox. The empire was much smaller, but in political terms, at least, it was no less powerful, and its direction was clear.
Lachlan generally avoids on-the-record interviews, but now that he was taking ownership of the family business, it seemed appropriate to make at least one public appearance. He chose the New York Times-sponsored DealBook conference about corporate leadership.
On Nov. 1, less than three months after the Australian “coup,”
Lachlan appeared onstage in the Time Warner Center in Midtown
Manhattan. Tieless, in a white shirt, a navy suit and his trademark black
outback boots, he offered a selfless account of the Disney deal.
“Your first thought is shareholders,” Lachlan replied. During the brief Q. and A. that followed, Lachlan dismissed the critics of Fox News as narrow-minded. “No, I’m not embarrassed by what they do at all,” he said of the network’s prime-time hosts. “I frankly feel that in this country, we all have to be more tolerant of each other’s views.”
52. Lachlan supports attacks on Immigration
In the days leading up to the conference, some Fox News hosts and guests had been moving ever closer to openly embracing the most bigoted sentiments of the white-nationalist movement.
A few days before the anti-Semitic attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 Jewish worshipers, a guest on Lou Dobbs’s show had said that a migrant caravan headed to the United States border from Honduras was being funded by the “Soros-occupied State Department.” ( network apologized.)
The shooter, according to a post he made on social media, had come to believe that Jews were transporting members of the migrant caravans.
When Tucker Carlson came under fire for his increasingly pointed attacks on immigration — “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our country poorer and dirtier and more divided” — he received personal text messages of support from Lachlan, according to two people familiar with the texts.
The lines between Fox News and the Trump White House were continuing to blur.
At Hannity’s urging, Trump hired the unemployed Bill Shine as his deputy chief of staff for communications in the summer of 2018, ushering in a new era of increased hostility between the White House and the mainstream media: Within days of his arrival in Washington in July 2018, Shine called the Fox control room to change an onscreen chyron about Ivanka Trump that he considered unflattering, according to a source inside Fox, who says his request was denied.
Shine also barred Kaitlan Collins, a CNN White House reporter, from an event after she asked Trump several questions about Michael Cohen and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Unlike his father, Lachlan did not have a long-term relationship with Trump, but he hired the former White House communications director Hope Hicks as the new chief communications officer for the new Fox.
Hicks was only 29, but she was the rare member of Trump’s inner circle who left the administration on good terms, and she remained very close to the president, the Trump family and others in the White House. (Kushner has privately told people that he provided a reference for her to Murdoch.)
Lachlan’s first initiative was Fox Nation, a subscription-only, on-demand streaming service started last fall for Fox “superfans.”
It would be a platform for a new generation of Fox stars and viewers.
One of its most prominent personalities was Tomi Lahren, a 26-year-old recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who had built a large social-media following with bite-size quips; for instance, she referred to Black Lives Matter as “the new KKK” and to refugees as “rape-ugees.”
Most of its shows would be live-streamed during the day, making it a convenient alternative to the network’s daytime news programming, which was too politically neutral for many Fox watchers. And because Fox Nation was on the internet, the content could be even less restrained than the network’s evening programming. In addition to opinion-heavy political coverage, there would also be lighter fare — such as a cooking show with the “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy — and “deep dives,” including a documentary about the former anchor of the CBS Evening News: “Black Eye: Dan Rather and the Birth of Fake News.” Lachlan’s longer-term plan was to take this undiluted, unchecked form of Fox News overseas.
Roger Ailes once blocked Sean Hannity from hosting a Tea Party fund-raiser on his show.
When Hannity and the Fox host Jeanine Pirro joined
Trump onstage at his final rally before the November midterm elections, the
old Ailesian concern that the network should keep at least some distance
from its political allies had come to feel quaint.
After a tepid rebuke from management for participating in the rally, he clarified his comments about the press: They were not intended to refer to Fox’s reporters at the rally, he said, just the rest of the media.
At times, Fox News seemed to be dictating presidential policy, or at least channeling the base that appeared to control the White House’s agenda.
In late 2018, Trump was heading toward a budget deal with the newly
ascendant Democrats until guests and hosts across the network started shaming
him, demanding that he not sign any government spending bills that didn’t
include $5 billion for a border wall. “Don’t
listen to squish advisers,” urged Pete Hegseth, a “Fox & Friends”
57. James wants to sell out. Lachlan declines.
But even now, James couldn’t fully distance himself from the new company: He was still holding a large chunk of its voting stock, and as long as that was the case, his fortunes would be tied to Lachlan’s “American political project.”
He couldn’t cash out, because Murdoch had made sure that none of his children would be able to sell their voting shares to an outsider.
And yet, as levers with which to influence the company, these shares were virtually useless because their father remained the controlling shareholder in the family trust.
James saw only one solution. He would sell his stock to Lachlan and his father, and maybe his sisters would join him. What was once a complex family dynasty would become a simple hereditary monarchy.
Elisabeth and Prudence enthusiastically agreed. Murdoch, too, was
excited about the idea, seeing it as an opportunity to rid the company of an
The documents were drawn up, but in late 2018, given the chance to have the company to himself, Lachlan balked. (Through a spokesman, Lachlan said that buying out his siblings wasn’t financially feasible.)
58. What was left was not a sprawling media empire that contained all his ambitions, but a political weapon.
Had Murdoch won or lost? On the one hand, Murdoch had achieved everything he wanted. He had made all his children multibillionaires, while not only keeping the division of his company that was most dear to him but also passing on control of it to his favorite son.
Everyone, Murdoch included, had thought Hillary Clinton was going to
win in 2016, but he had made a bet on a different candidate — and the power of a
countervailing historical force — and he’d been rewarded with ratings, money and
What was left was not a sprawling media empire that contained all his ambitions, but a political weapon.
59. James and Kathryn were planning to neutralize that political weapon.
In early 2019, their foundation, Quadrivium, announced initiatives to defend democratic nations against what they saw as the rising threat of illiberal populism and to bolster voting rights.
The Disney deal was scheduled to close in the spring.
During the family’s final months as the owners of the storied 21st Century
Fox, they attended the Oscar festivities one last time.
There was a brief but memorable exchange at the Vanity Fair dinner
during the ceremony.
At the Vanity Fair dinner during the ceremony, Kathryn was seated next to Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and a host of the vehemently anti-Trump podcast “Pod Save America.” Lovett did not seem thrilled with his table assignment, but as he and Kathryn started talking, it quickly became clear that she did not share the politics of the Murdoch family business.
The conversation inevitably turned to Fox News and the damage it was
“Do you feel proud of what’s happening between 8 and 11 every night?” Lovett asked. “You think this is good for the world?”
“Yeah, I think they’re doing a great job,” Lachlan replied.
Lachlan turned away and joined another conversation.
60. Fox is Publicly Traded
On the morning of March 19, 2019, the new, streamlined Fox officially became a publicly traded, if Murdoch-controlled, company, with Lachlan as its chairman and chief executive and Murdoch as co-chairman.
Its name was simply Fox Corporation.
A week earlier, Fox News held its first “upfront” for advertising
agencies, trying to reassure skittish ad buyers that the network represented a
“safe” brand for their products, according to a report in Ad
Age. There were videotaped interviews with Fox News viewers — “they
deliver the news accurately and honestly” — and a panel discussion with Fox
personalities, who expressed optimism about the state of the country and the
In the 22-year history of the network, the Fox News Effect had
never been more pronounced.
62. Nationalist Attacks in Britain, Australia, Europe and New Zealand
The same could be said of the more global Murdoch effect. Brexit-inspired chaos continued to rattle Britain.
Both of Theresa May’s proposals to formalize the country’s break with the European Union were rejected by the British Parliament. The possibility of a “no-deal Brexit” — in which the country would simply crash out of the European bloc, quite possibly triggering a historic economic collapse — loomed. In late March, more than a million protesters took to the streets of London to demand a second Brexit referendum.
With May’s fellow conservatives questioning her continued leadership of the party, a former Murdoch columnist, editor and friend, Michael Gove — now a member of Parliament — was being talked about as a possible replacement.
Thousands of miles away, another consequence of the global ethnonationalist fervor that the Murdoch empire had amplified and mainstreamed was playing out in New Zealand, where an Australian white nationalist, Brenton Tarrant, stood accused of killing 50 worshipers at two Christchurch mosques on March 14.
There was no direct connection between Tarrant and Sky Australia, but critics of the network quickly drew attention to its consistently anti-Muslim rhetoric.
In an online comment, unearthed by the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation, Tarrant had described
Trump’s election as “one of the most important events in modern history.”
Following the massacre, a young Muslim employee of Sky News in Australia quit in protest. “Over the past few years, I was playing a role — no matter how small — in a network whose tone I knew would help legitimize radical views present in the fringes of our society,” she wrote in a post on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website.
63. The New York Post's publisher resigns
In the United States, what remained of the Murdoch empire was already gearing up for the 2020 presidential election.
One of its first steps was to bring The New York Post more in line with Fox News. The paper had long been Trump’s first read — it was delivered daily to the White House — but its coverage was not uniformly favorable.
In January, the Murdochs brought back one of the paper’s former editors, Col Allan, to help run the paper. An old Trump golf partner, Allan had come up through Australia’s tabloids and has been described as “Rupe’s attack dog.” Jesse Angelo, The Post’s publisher — and James’s lifelong best friend — resigned shortly after hearing the news.
Across Fox News, hosts treated the submission of the Mueller Report in late March as the end of a two-year witch hunt and the beginning of Trump’s re-election campaign.
The probe had resulted in the indictments of 34 individuals; guilty pleas and convictions from five former Trump business associates or former campaign officials; and a number of ongoing state, federal and congressional investigations.
But on Fox’s prime time, Mueller’s decision against bringing new indictments was portrayed as vindication of what the hosts had been telling the audience all along: The investigation was a deep-state coup by the Democrats, helped along by mainstream reporters who were deliberately misinforming the public.
The Democrats and their allies in the press had failed to overthrow
Trump this time, Fox’s hosts and their guests warned, but their
efforts would only grow more intense in the coming months.
The 2020 campaign and the new era of the Murdoch dynasty had begun.
Jonathan Mahler is a staff writer for the magazine who has previously written
about the relationship between CNN
and Donald Trump.