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Rupert Murdoch changed America forever – what will his son do?

Control is passing to Lachlan Murdoch – though Rupert’s other three children will retain equal votes after his death

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Friday 22 September 2023 08:55 BST
Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch
Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch (Getty Images)

A hackneyed observation? Perhaps. But I can only conclude that Rupert Murdoch saw the final season of Succession and thought he would much prefer to rewrite the ending.

Unlike the HBO drama’s fictional media mogul Logan Roy, whose death threw the future of his TV network into question, Murdoch is taking fate into his own hands by stepping down from the boards of both Fox and News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. Control of both companies passes to his son, Lachlan Murdoch – though his other three children will retain equal votes on the company’s future once the 92-year-old dies.

To be completely frank, I do not think this development will result in any change. Lachlan Murdoch has generally been captaining Satan’s Ship – that is, the vast propaganda machine that is News Corp – for years now and shows little sign of changing course. Why would he? Generating conspiracy theories and attacks on political opponents has proven incredibly lucrative: the Fox Corporation reported $1.24 billion in net profits this year, a figure that factors in the costly legal settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over Tucker Carlson’s outrageous election lies, which cost the company more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. Simply put, misinformation is mighty lucrative for the Murdoch men.

Still, it is worth considering the legacy of the nonagenarian Australian. Murdoch has acquired papers across the globe – from The Australian in his home country to The Sun in the UK and the New York Post in the USA – each with an unabashed, unrelenting right wing bend.

It was the launch of Fox News in 1996, though, that solidified Murdoch’s place in American history. Despite branding itself as “fair and balanced” for more than two decades, from the outset the network promoted the conservative causes of Murdoch and his cronies. “Many journalists believe Mr Murdoch wants to offer a conservative alternative to what he views as liberal bias among traditional news purveyors,” The New York Times reported in 1996, pointing out that the first and longtime chairman and chief executive, Roger Ailes, was a “well-known former Republican political strategist.”

If that was Murdoch’s intention, credit where it’s due. Fox News has been nothing short of a godsend for the Republican Party and conservative crusaders who wish to divide and conquer the American people. A 2003 column by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David D Kirkpatrick reported that “the editorial policies of almost all his English-language news organizations have hewn very closely to Mr Murdoch’s own stridently hawkish political views, making his voice among the loudest in the Anglophone world in the international debate over the American-led war with Iraq.”

Unsurprisingly, a contemporaneous study by the Program on International Policy at the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were significantly more likely to have misperceptions of the war than those who primarily got their news from other sources. This was echoed in a 2010 study, which found Fox News viewers to be “significantly more misinformed” than other news consumers.

This is down, in large part, to some of the network’s biggest stars. Bill O’Reilly, the network’s first firebrand, singlehandedly created the (utterly fictitious) “war on Christmas” in 2004. Meanwhile, the network’s stars – including Greta Van Susteren, Sean Hannity, and Steve Doocy – gave ample airtime for then-reality TV host Donald Trump (and others) to stoke baseless conspiracy theories that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Indeed, Trump’s rise to the presidency and everything that happened afterward – Charlottesville, Covid denialism, January 6 – owe much to Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News empire.

Simply put, so many of the modern ills of American society can be traced back to this one man and the network he launched to reshape the country and the world to his liking. Rupert Murdoch is one of the great villains in American history, promoting misinformation and outright hostility towards political opponents and marginalized groups to make a profit and brainwash the masses.

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