“I’ve had a sense that Lachlan is at least as conservative as his father,” said Preston Padden, a former Fox executive who has since became a critic of the network (but described Lachlan as “a very nice guy” in their interactions back in the 1990s).
In his note to Fox employees on Thursday announcing his departure, Rupert Murdoch described Lachlan as “a passionate, principled leader” and ideological descendant of his own late father, Keith Murdoch, who began the family’s media business. “My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” he wrote.
While Lachlan has donated to both Republican and Democratic campaigns, the bulk of his candidate-specific donations have gone to Republicans, including a $1 million donation in November 2020 to the GOP’s Senate Leadership Fund. During that cycle, he made several donations in support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), though he also chipped in $1,500 to a political action committee started by Democrat Pete Buttigieg, according to a review of campaign finance records.
More tellingly, he has betrayed no regrets about Fox News’s editorial direction — even after pro-Trump commentators promoted baseless claims of 2020 presidential vote-rigging on its airwaves, leading to a massive defamation lawsuit from a maligned voting technology company that ended with Fox paying a record $787.5 million settlement.
“There’s no change to our programming strategy at Fox News. It’s obviously a successful strategy,” Murdoch said on a call with industry analysts in May, defending the payout as a business decision and declaring that Fox News “always acted as a news organization reporting on the newsworthy events of the day.”
Lachlan Murdoch grew up in the family’s business, spending one summer cleaning the printing presses for Sydney’s Daily Mirror and another as a cub reporter for the Murdoch-owned San Antonio Express-News. “These brief immersions reinforced the sense that the young Murdoch was destined to follow his father and grandfather into the media,” the Australian journalist Paddy Manning wrote in his 2022 biography of Murdoch, “The Successor.”
After attending prep school in New York and college at Princeton University, he returned to Australia to work in the media business, beginning a long career in media that he would see him move back and forth between his native country and the United States, taking on larger and larger roles in the company. He resigned from the family company in 2005 but returned nearly a decade later, moving to Los Angeles in 2014.
Upon taking full control of both Fox Corp and News Corp, which houses the company’s publishing assets, Lachlan will be forced to confront both legal and strategic challenges.
Fox News still faces a $2.7 billion lawsuit from voting technology company Smartmatic, which, like Dominion, has alleged that its reputation was besmirched by on-air comments. Fox was also recently hit with a false-light lawsuit from Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who alleges that he was falsely portrayed as a government agent by Fox hosts including Tucker Carlson in their speculation about his activities at the rallies preceding the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. On Wednesday, Epps pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly or disruptive conduct on restricted grounds.
“Lachlan’s first order of business should be to have Fox News retract the lies his company created and amplified about Ray Epps,” his attorney, Michael Teter, told The Washington Post. “And his second order of business should be to ensure that Fox stops ruining people’s lives through the spread of falsehoods.”
In 2021, Murdoch moved back to Australia with his family. That distance from Fox’s headquarters in New York is also representative of his remove from the network’s day-to-day machinations. In a deposition he gave for the Dominion case, Murdoch made clear that he has delegated authority to the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, along with its president, Jay Wallace.
Yet the reams of correspondence released as part of the discovery process in the case revealed at least one example of Murdoch involving himself in broadcast choices.
The Fox Corporation CEO took issue with the way that two Fox News journalists, correspondent Rich Edson and anchor Leland Vittert, described the motivations of a crowd of Trump supporters who had gathered in Washington after his defeat in November 2020. In particular, he complained that Vittert took a “smug and obnoxious” tone.
“News guys have to be careful how they cover this rally,” Murdoch wrote in a message to Scott. “The narrative should be this is a huge celebration of the president.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how big of a step back his father is actually taking from his companies.
In his statement to employees, Rupert Murdoch emphasized that he would remain actively involved in his new role of chairman emeritus. “When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon,” he wrote.
The elder Murdoch had previously receded from the company but stepped back in to take control of Fox News in 2016 after the network’s ouster of chairman Roger Ailes, who was accused of sexual misconduct.
Fox employees and Fox-watchers alike remain skeptical that Rupert Murdoch is really stepping away for good.
“In terms of operations, I think he’s still the guy,” said one veteran Fox News employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity because staff are not authorized to comment. “I don’t see this as a big change.”
Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, an expert on executive succession, said Murdoch is a classic example of a corporate boss who is too enmeshed with his company to easily take leave of it.
“I think he will periodically step back in,” Sonnenfeld told The Post. “He’s too engaged in his business. He doesn’t have outside hobbies.”