Murdoch Succession

Lachlan Murdoch: The heir apparent to father Rupert’s media empire who was groomed for top job from childhood

Lachlan Murdoch was groomed as father Rupert’s successor from childhood, writes Bevan Hurley

Friday 22 September 2023 08:47 BST
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<p>Rupert Murdoch (R) and Lachlan Murdoch arrive for the TIME 100 Gala in New York April 21, 2015</p>

Rupert Murdoch (R) and Lachlan Murdoch arrive for the TIME 100 Gala in New York April 21, 2015

In 2015, Rupert Murdoch was seeking to secure his legacy along with the multi-billion dollar media empire that he had built up from a single regional newspaper in his native Australia.

That year, the then 84-year-old patriarch appointed his eldest son Lachlan and middle son James as co-chairmen of the family’s Hollywood production company 21st Century Fox, a hint of the succession drama that had been brewing ever since the brothers used to cheat at Monopoly as children.

According to journalist Paddy Manning’s 2022 biography The Successor, Lachlan was “a laid-back Australian and all-round smooth operator: spectacularly rich, impeccably mannered, handsome, open minded, adventurous, savvy, fun”.

This contrasted with James’ tendency to be more aloof, and with a growing distaste for the rightwing politics that his family was synonymous with.

Within five years James had quit the family business, writing in a terse exit letter in 2020 that his decision was due to “disagreements over certain editorial content” and “certain other strategic decisions.”

Lachlan was officially anointed as his father’s heir apparent, and with Rupert Murdoch’s decision to step down in November, he will assume sole control of the vast media empire as chair of News Corp while staying on as CEO and chair of Fox Corp.

With political views reportedly to the right of his father, it remains to be seen what influence Lachlan will bring to Fox News.

In a statement released on Thursday morning, the 52-year-old wrote of his 92-year-old dad: “We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted.”

‘Read that’

Lachlan was born in Wimbledon, London, in 1971, the eldest son of Rupert and his second wife Anna Murdoch Mann’s three children.

He was raised in New York from the age of three after his father moved to the United States full-time to expand his global business.

Mr Murdoch Sr immersed Lachlan and his siblings James and Elisabeth in media and politics from a young age.

Before heading to school each day, the patriarch would make them read The New York Post, The New York Times, the Daily News and the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch senior would flag stories of interest, ordering his children to: “Read that”, Lachlan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Dynasties programme in 2002.

“I don’t think we ever realised we were in an extraordinary family,” Lachlan said in an interview for Dynasties. “I still think in many ways… we’re an ordinary family with ordinary issues in perhaps extraordinary circumstances.”

Lachlan mixed his private school education at Dalton, and Trinity School on New York’s Upper West Side with summers spent cleaning printers or working as a cub reporter in the family business.

From left Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch in 2014

Lachlan went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Princeton University.

After college, Lachlan spent three years in Australia, the country where he has lived for much of his adult life. At 22, he became general manager of Queensland Newspapers, publisher of the Courier-Mail newspaper, and went on to become publisher of the national broadsheet, The Australian, a year later.

Lachlan later rose to become chairman of the Murdoch family’s Australian company News Limited.

In 1999, Lachlan moved back to the US where he led print operations for his father’s News Corp media behemoth.

He went on to be named deputy chief operating officer at the publicly listed company, overseeing its dozens of television stations publishing house HarperCollins and The New York Post.

The same year he married Australian television presenter and model Sarah O’Hare. The couple have two sons Kalan, 18, and Aidan, 17, and a daughter Aerin, 13.

His apparent unstoppable ascent to the throne hit an unexpected detour when he resigned from News Corp in 2005.

A New York Magazine article titled The Boy Who Wouldn’t Be King suggested the split was the result of a falling out with his father over a TV show.

Then-Fox CEO Roger Ailes wanted to launch a news-based reality TV show which Lachlan objected to. “Do the show, don’t listen to Lachlan,” Murdoch Sr reportedly told Ailes.

Lachlan spent 10 years in the News Corp wilderness. He returned to Australia with his family and launched the private investment firm Illyria Pty which invested in radio stations and technology.

He also purchased a large stake in the Australian media company Ten Network, later becoming its chairman.

The ventures did not always succeed, the Associated Press noted. In 2014, he and business partner James Packer agreed to pay A$40m to resolve court cases linked to the collapse of dot-com company One.Tel.

Return of the king

In 2015, Lachlan returned to the family business where he was appointed co-chairman of News Corp, along with the co-chairmanship role at 21st Century Fox.

Lachlan was born in Wimbledon, London, in 1971, the eldest son of Rupert and his second wife Anna Murdoch Mann’s three children

Within a year, his former rival Ailes would be forced out.

Four years later, Fox’s entertainment assets, including lucrative shows like The Simpsons, and a stable of blockbuster movies including Avatar and the Star Wars sequels would be sold to Disney for $71bn.

Each of the Murdoch children reportedly received $2bn in Disney stock, according to Manning’s biography.

James Murdoch exited the family company in 2020 when he resigned from the News Corp board, leaving Lachlan with a clear run to the top job.

While reluctant to discuss his personal politics, Lachlan publicly backed Tucker Carlson as the former Fox News host veered increasingly into rightwing conspiracy theories and outright racism.

After the 2017 neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Carlson came out in support of the demonstrators who had chanted “Jews will not replace us”. Donald Trump later blamed the violence on “both sides”.

James Murdoch and his wife Kathryn Hufschmid issued a blistering denunciation to friends, which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. Lachlan remained silent.

Further controversies ensued in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, as Fox News peddled lies that Mr Trump had beaten Joe Biden, despite Mr Murdoch and prominent on-air personalities privately acknowledging he had lost.

When advertisers fled the network, Lachlan expressed his full support for Carlson.

Fox would later pay out $787.5m to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit for knowingly spreading lies about the results, after a series of damaging revelations during pre-trial discovery.

Lachlan has spoken little publicly about his personal politics, although tidbits have emerged over the years.

In his 2016 memoir Making Headlines, former Australian editor Chris Mitchell described Lachlan’s conservatism as “more vigorous than that of any Australian politician”. Mitchell wrote that Lachland’s views were generally to the right of his father’s.

In 2022, Lachlan sued the independent Australian website Crikey for defamation after it accused him of being complicit in the January 6 riots.

After Fox Corp settled its defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, Lachlan agreed to pay the site $840,000 to settle the case.

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