By Oliver Darcy, CNN
New York (CNN) — Rupert Murdoch, the powerful right-wing media mogul who built and oversaw one of the world’s most influential news empires, announced Thursday that he will step down as chairman of his companies, Fox Corporation and News Corporation.
“For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change,” Murdoch, 92, wrote in a memo to employees. “But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams.”
As the leader of Fox and News Corporation, which publishes influential broadsheets such as The Wall Street Journal and tabloid New York Post, Murdoch has for decades commanded considerable influence in the Republican Party, matched by only a select few.
His retirement comes at a key moment in the media industry as entrenched entertainment giants confront a sweeping transformation of the traditional television and film business and consumers rapidly gravitate toward streaming services.
Murdoch’s decision to step down as chairman of his companies will also send shockwaves through the political world, just as the 2024 presidential race heats up. Fox News remains ensnared in litigation stemming from the network’s peddling of former President Donald Trump’s election lies in the wake of the 2020 election.
Lachlan Murdoch steps in
Stepping into his shoes, Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, who already serves as chief executive of Fox Corporation, will become sole chairman of both companies.
Murdoch described Lachlan as “a passionate, principled leader.” It’s unclear if Fox’s direction will change under Lachlan, but Rupert signaled that Lachlan will maintain the right-wing editorial bent his media companies are known for.
“My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” Murdoch told employees in his memo. “Self- serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”
Rupert Murdoch, who assured staffers he is in “robust health,” said that in his new role as chairman emeritus he would still be “involved every day in the contest of ideas.”
However, Lachlan Murdoch has privately criticized Trump, saying that he disagrees with much of the way the former President behaves, people familiar with the matter told CNN last year. In some comments, Murdoch had gone as far as to tell people that he believes if Trump were to run again, it would be bad for the country.
A storied, controversial career
Murdoch’s foray into the media business began in the 1950s with a small Australian newspaper chain,
In 1969, Murdoch landed his first major overseas prize with the purchase of the UK’s News of the World. He went on to acquire The Sun and The Times and The Sunday Times of London, building a newspaper empire that gave him unrivaled reach and political influence in Britain.
In 1973, Murdoch first entered the United States media sphere with the purchase of the San Antonio Express and the San Antonio News. A year later, he moved to New York and soon after began the National Star, a tabloid competing against the National Enquirer.
Perhaps one of his most prolific purchases was the New York Post in 1976, a punchy New York City tabloid that still dominates the media and political sphere today. He’s owned it since then, except for a brief time when rules prohibited ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same city. He bought it back in 1993 after selling it in 1988.
Murdoch became a major Hollywood executive in 1985 when he purchased Twentieth Century Fox from oilman Marvin Davis for $600 million. In 1986, Murdoch got into the television business after he purchased several US television stations and created Fox Broadcasting.
He launched UK satellite pay-TV broadcaster Sky in 1989, before merging it with a major rival just a year later after a bruising price war.
But his UK empire foundered two decades later as a consequence of a hacking scandal at the News of the World.
Murdoch shut the Sunday tabloid – one of Britain’s oldest and best-selling newspapers — in July 2011 amid public outrage over allegations that the outlet had illegally eavesdropped on murder and terror victims, politicians and celebrities. The scandal forced him to abandon a bid to take control of Sky.
He made another bid for the pay-TV broadcaster in 2016, but it became ensnared by UK media regulators who worried that the deal would give the Murdoch family too much influence in Britain and concerns over its commitment to uphold UK broadcasting standards. Comcast swooped in at the last minute and outbid Fox for Sky.
Although he focused largely on print and TV, he did unsuccessfully try to dominate the internet too. He bought MySpace, one of the first social networks, in 2005 for $580 million. in 2011, he sold it for a substantial loss at $35 million. He later reflected that its failure was because of a “series of expensive lost opportunities” with an addition of a “layer of bureaucracy” that halted progress against rivals like Facebook and YouTube.
Murdoch sold much of his media empire, including the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, to Disney in a massive $71 billion deal in 2019. He was left with a much leaner broadcast portfolio, consisting of Fox News and Fox Sports.
After that sale, however, he maintained his News Corp. newspaper business, including the Wall Street Journal, which was part of his company’s Dow Jones purchase in 2007 for $5.6 billion. Under his purview, the broadsheet expanded its focus beyond money and markets, built a successful paywall and kept its down-the-middle tone except for its conservative Opinion page.
Fox News launched in 1996 as a conservative startup competitor to CNN. It eventually became the top cable news channel in America by playing into conservative narratives.
The channel, however, veered from its roots in conservative news as former President Donald Trump ascended to power in the Republican Party in 2015, becoming an unabashed home of right-wing propaganda aimed at propping up the scandal-ridden White House.
Murdoch-owned outlets also have a long history of undermining and down-playing climate science. In the US, Fox News has become a home to climate change conspiracy theories and the people who proliferate them. While Murdoch has said many times that he does not support climate denial, his outlets have continued to push climate doubt and platform climate skeptics.
“Nobody has done more harm to the understanding of climate change than Rupert Murdoch, who has wielded his global media network as a weapon to sow doubt and confusion about the basic science and the case for action,” Michael Mann, a renowned climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN.
In recent years, under Murdoch, Fox News has advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential election.
The lies Fox News pushed about the election spawned two massive defamation lawsuits from voting technology companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic.
Fox earlier this year settled the Dominion lawsuit for a historic $787.5 million. The Smartmatic lawsuit, however, continues to make its way through the court system.
Fox News announced Murdoch’s retirement on its air Thursday morning, with anchor Bill Hemmer praising the network’s founder.
“Rupert Murdoch created all of this and so much more across America and the globe,” Hemmer said. “His life’s work has left an indelible imprint on the global media landscape. His contributions are both innumerable and extraordinary and we thank him for letting us be a part of it all.”
“Without him, we would not be here,” anchor Dana Perino added.
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