The fall of Rupert Murdoch: Insiders say they never thought he would step aside

 (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Rupert Murdoch’s decision to step down as chairman of Fox and News Corp to be replaced by his son Lachlan was met with shock, with insiders saying: “We never thought he’d do it”.

In a memo to employees, the 92-year-old said “the time is right” for him to take on “different roles” as he ended a seven-decade career during which he created a media empire spanning from the UK to Australia to the United States.

Lachlan’s new role puts to rest questions of succession within the Murdoch family... Jesse Armstrong, writer of hit TV drama Succession, admitted last month that the Murdoch dynasty inspired his story of brutal power struggles in a media mogul’s family.

The announcement was made days ahead of the publication of Michael Wolff’s new book, The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty, serialised in the Standard this week.

The change of leadership will take place after the companies’ annual meeting in mid-November, with Mr Murdoch becoming chairman emeritus. News Corp owns publications around the world such as The Wall Street Journal, The Sun and The Times, and book publisher HarperCollins. He also founded Fox Corporation, which includes the conservative US channel Fox News, and is worth $18 billion (£14.5 billion).

The shock announcement has prompted significant questions, including what made him decide to retire now after having resisted succession for decades. A former executive at Fox Corp told Vanity Fair: “I never thought he’d do it.”

Some analysts suggested his health could be a factor, but in his statement yesterday he wrote: “Our companies are in robust health, as am I. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years — I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them.”

Others pointed out that the transition comes during a difficult time for Fox, with the Australian-born media baron recently ditching plans to merge Fox and News Corp. In April, Fox agreed to pay $787.5million (£640.5million) to voting machine firm Dominion after a lengthy legal case over Fox’s reporting of the 2020 presidential election in the US. Fox also faces a lawsuit from another voting machine firm, seeking $2.7billion (£2.2billion).

Leaders in politics, business and media hailed Mr Murdoch as a trailblazer who fundamentally changed the worlds of newspapers, broadcasting and entertainment. Boris Johnson said: “Hail Rupe! Through constant technological innovation he did more than any press baron in the last 100 years to promote the cause of the global free media.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “He is someone who, love him or loathe him, had a defining influence on all of our lives over the last half century. His support for Margaret Thatcher in the Wapping dispute was extremely important.”

Lachlan, 52, is the son of Mr Murdoch and his second wife Anna. In his memo to staff, Mr Murdoch vowed to continue to be involved in the “contest of ideas”.