Lachlan Murdoch, the 52-year-old scion, has — at least for now — won the game of succession at the media empire built by his aging father, Rupert.
Lachlan is not a change agent. His assumption of sole day-to-day command at News Corporation and Fox Corporation is a story of continuity — which likely means that the media organs under his watch will continue their signature mix of tabloid populism, climate denial, and mindless MAGA-mania. In the letter announcing Lachlan’s promotion, Rupert called him “absolutely committed to the cause.”
The rise of the eldest son to the top of the Murdoch heap was not always guaranteed. But Lachlan’s ascension assures that Rupert’s vision for his empire will continue — at least until his death. Rupert Murdoch was, until today, co-CEO and co-executive chairman of the businesses he built. Lachlan now holds those titles alone.
The 92-year-old Murdoch remains, he insists, in “robust” health and poised to retain an active role in the business, pulling strings as chairman emeritus. In his letter announcing his step back, he vowed to remain “involved every day in the contest of ideas.”
Lachlan Keith Murdoch was born in the UK. His silver-spoon upbringing in America included elite schooling at Aspen Country Day and Philips Academy before he graduated from Princeton in 1994. Just two years later, in 1996, he was named an executive director of News Corp. — then the umbrella firm for Rupert Murdoch’s vast media holdings across Australia, the United States, and England.
From his early days as an executive, Lachlan was seen as locked in a rivalry with his younger brother James, two years his junior, to ultimately succeed his father. But in 2005, when he was then deputy COO and in his early 30s, Lachlan left the family fold. He reportedly felt “chipped away at” and “emasculated” after seeing his decision-making repeatedly undermined by his father, and after being outmaneuvered by fellow execs like Fox News honcho Roger Ailes, a veteran of cutthroat GOP presidential campaigns.
For the next decade, Lachlan set out to build a media empire of his own, with middling results. He returned to the family business in 2014 as the Murdoch empire was licking its wounds from the 2011 phone hacking scandal at the British tabloid News of the World. Rupert had recently shuttered the paper, which operated in a division under James’ watch. Rupert insisted Lachlan’s “strength and insight” were well matched to a moment of “great opportunity and challenge.”
The prodigal son, Lachlan won over his father’s trust. He showed no signs of objecting to the conservative, and Trump-boosting, editorial slant of the company’s media holdings. James, in contrast, publicly rebuked the family business for its climate denial, backed Joe Biden’s 2020 election, and steered millions, with his wife, into progressive causes.
Lachlan was also a champion of Tucker Carlson’s rise as the star personality at Fox News. However, since the end of the Trump presidency, Lachlan has overseen damaging scandals at Fox. He was a key decision-maker at Fox News when its post-election coverage spawned a massive defamation lawsuit by voting firm Dominion, which the network recently settled for $787.5 million. (Lachlan told investors the settlement was a “business decision” meant to “avoid the acrimony of a divisive trial.”) Fox Corporation faces a similar $2.7 billion defamation case brought by the voting firm Smartmatic.
Documents that surfaced in the Dominion case showed that Lachlan played a hands-on role in guiding the network’s political coverage. Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Fox board member, revealed he had advised both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, in the wake of the 2020 election, that “Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories,” adding that the network needed “to move on from Donald Trump and stop spouting election lies.” In the aftermath of the violence of Jan. 6, Rupert Murdoch vowed FoxNews should “make Trump a non person.”
Carlson was ousted from Fox News in May shortly after the network settled with Dominion, and its relationship with Trump has been chilly at best. For a time, the Murdoch organs appeared to be actively boosting the presidential prospects of GOP rival Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, leading Trump to attack the network — and even the Murdochs directly. In August, Trump, the 2024 frontrunner, skipped the first presidential primary debate hosted by Fox News, instead appearing in an interview with Carlson on X, formerly Twitter. Rolling Stone reported that Trump told allies he ditched the debate to punish the Murdochs.
Lachlan inherits a downsized empire. Rupert sold off the movie and entertainment holdings of 21st Century Fox to Disney, in a gargantuan $71 billion deal that closed in 2019. That sale left the Murdoch family in control of two conglomerates: News Corporation (which holds assets like The Wall Street Journal, the UK Sun, and the UK Times, Australian papers, and the HarperCollins book publisher) and Fox Corporation (parent of Fox News, and the Fox broadcast network, among other properties).
Passing the reins, Rupert praised Lachlan as a “passionate and principled leader.” Lachlan’s grip on the business is roughly assured until the death of his father. Rupert controls the trust that holds the family’s share of the businesses. When he dies, however, the direction of the companies will be far more in doubt, as each of Rupert’s four children will reportedly receive an equal voting share.
That’s when the true succession battle will begin.