Murdoch’s “departure” sounds a lot like a lost episode of Succession, with Logan Roy dramatically stepping down but not really stepping down from the chairmanship of Waystar Royco for evil genius reasons to be revealed in a future episode. The idea that Murdoch would give up power before he dies defies everything we’ve learned about him. The idea that he would give up power even after he dies is equally preposterous. Murdoch didn’t build his media empire only to have his children piss it away after he passes. The only way the announcement makes sense is if he’s designed it to boost the status of his chosen heir, son Lachlan Murdoch, the current executive chair and CEO of Fox and now sole chair of News Corp., so he can motor it further down the path Rupert charted.
As the Financial Times explained earlier this year, the colossus that Murdoch built will be controlled by his four children from his first and second marriages on the long-shot chance that he ever dies. The Murdoch kids, like Logan Roy’s kids, are likely to go Gaboon viper on one another once Rupert takes the eternal death nap. It would take only two votes among the four to destabilize the current arrangement, and the FT predicts, quite rationally, that the kids will vote Lachlan out as soon that happens and perhaps all that the old man built will be sold off, bit by bit, for parts.
Perhaps Murdoch thinks he has enough time left to help Lachlan convince James, Elizabeth and Prudence that the eldest son has dad’s chops and vision and should be allowed to pilot the craft. Placing Lachlan in that slot to prove him capable was part of the rationale behind Rupert’s failed attempt to recombine Fox and News Corp. last year. But other Fox and News Corp. shareholders balked, and Murdoch had to give up the plan. Maybe Murdoch thinks by “stepping down” he can make it look like Lachlan is really in control and bolster his standing. But will Wall Street and the Murdoch kids be that easily confused? Nah.
Everything in Murdoch world is situational. At one time, Murdoch was set on building an American newspaper empire. When that didn’t work, he gave it up. At one time, he bought MySpace, which was bigger than Facebook, but sold it when Mark Zuckerberg buried him. Likewise, Murdoch invested deeply in DirecTV and China TV properties and then unloaded them. Having never written anything in stone before, it’s unlikely that this “retirement” letter was crafted with a chisel. Murdoch will do whatever Murdoch wants to do and undo anything he wants undone.
The best illustration of how Murdoch operates comes not from his life but that of the most notorious of his British tabloid editors, Kelvin MacKenzie. When MacKenzie, who edited Murdoch’s Sun, wanted to rile a politician or other notables, he would order his staff to “stick a ferret up their trousers.” Should the news cycle swing the wrong way or the ferret-legging backfire, MacKenzie would holler, “Reverse ferret!” And the process would start anew.
Murdoch’s goodbye, not-goodbye, note should be treated as a mere trial balloon for the Lachlan Regency until evidence indicating otherwise appears. Murdoch has sent many a ferret up many a trouser leg before. If he were to shout “reverse ferret!” on this one, it wouldn’t be the first time.
The “reverse ferret” story has many versions, none definitive. Try Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie’s1990 book, Stick It Up Your Punter!, for one set of accounts. Send virtual ferrets to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. The only social media I follow is Twitter, which I refuse to call X. Murdoch has outlived my RSS feed, which appears to be dead.