Few will miss that Rupert Murdoch’s announcement today of his decision to hand over the leadership of his media empire to his son Lachlan comes just days before the official release of Michael Wolff’s provocatively titled The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty.
It seems unlikely that the retirement timing was linked to the release of the book, whose author is seen as more fabulist than journalist. But Wolff’s readers now have added incentive to buy his book and scan its lurid narrative for any insight into what lies ahead for the Fox News empire created by Rupert Murdoch.
It’s worth noting that Fox has already seen quite a lot of change – even upheaval – in recent years under the elder Murdoch. His retirement comes only about six months after Fox agreed to pay $787 million to settle the Dominion Voting defamation case. Lachlan will inherit responsibility for the Smartmatic Voting System’s $2.7 billion defamation suit, which is winding its way through the federal courts.
The fallout from Dominion litigation put on embarrassing display the internal disarray at Fox after Trump’s loss, eventually leading to the firing of Tucker Carlson. The Trump-supporting firebrand became the latest in a long series of high-profile executive and commentator departures in recent years, including Lou Dobbs (2021), Roger Ailes (2016), Bill O’Reilly (2017) and Glenn Beck (2011).
Lachlan Murdoch takes the helm with the reputation of sharing his father’s political views. It will probably take months before Lachlan will be able to put his own stamp on the news operation at Fox. But his hand may well be forced when Trump, as expected, wins the GOP presidential nomination.
Fox has remained a consistent critic of the Biden administration, but its relationship with the former president has become complicated, especially in the wake of the Dominion disclosures. Trump passed on participating on the Fox debate broadcast in August, opting instead for “counter programming” an interview with Tucker Carlson on X – formerly known as Twitter. In recent months, the Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal and New York Post have emerged as sharp critics of Trump on occasion.
How Fox covers the 2024 elections and a resurgent Trump as GOP presidential nominees will likely provide insight into Lachlan’s vision and leadership for the network. Will Fox remain a MAGA megaphone or find a more nuanced path to connect with its largely conservative audience?