Stephen Mayne and Michael Newhouse write:

Lachlan Murdoch’s unexpected resignation last week as News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer has sent the English language press into a spin, with speculation running rife about any of the long list of Murdoch family feuds that may have forced the heir apparent to leave the corporate life behind and head back to Australia. And according to today’s Financial Times, 53-year-old News Corp president and chief operating officer Peter Chernin will take over Lachlan’s duties and is set to take the reigns when Rupert resigns or carks it – probably a surprise to James Murdoch.

Over the weekend the LA Times reported that sources inside the Murdoch family said tensions had been running high between Rupert and Lachlan in the past year over News Corp’s recent move to New York, while others inside the empire seem to be suggesting that Lachlan’s decision to go was “less about specific grievances than about self-determination.”

Lachlan’s 10 week climbing and sailing holiday last year was also said to have left his father unimpressed.

“It all seems to add up to one of the greatest mysteries to delight the fishbowl world of international media moguldom in a long time,” said Newsweek, which suggested that if anyone inside News knew the real reasons behind Lachlan’s premature evacuation then they’re not letting on. It was a delighted New York Daily News that stuck the boot in and focused on the financial strife at the New York Post in the wake of Lachlan’s departure, reporting that the paper is losing $US30 million a year, despite all the boosterism about Lachlan’s supposed magic with the title.

In today’s AustralianDavid Nason admits the problems News’ broadsheet journos have when reporting on their bosses: “whatever they write about News Corporation tends to be regarded by the market as highly credible inside information.” But Nason puts that worry to rest, saying a whole lot of nothing and discounting rumours of a rift between Murdoch women (doesn’t say who), and that a spat between Chernin and Lachlan could have forced Lachlan’s decision to leave.

But probably the most critical thing to appear in a News Corp publication was a little par from Adelaide boy Nic Hopkins in The Times (UK) reminding us all of the One Tel collapse and the Super League debacle that lost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. But BusinessWeek followed the line that “Lachlan got tired of running units inside the News Corp. while his younger brother, 31-year-old James, ran his own company in London – the BSkyB satellite service.”

This is a good point. Poor Lachlan had never worked anywhere except News Corp and was working on the same floor as his father in New York for almost five years whereas his brother James was able to do his own thing after dropping out of Harvard. When James finally did join News Corp in 1999, he was quickly sent to Hong Hong to run STAR and then London to run BSkyB, operations which were both distant from his father’s home base in New York.

All up, there have been thousands of media reports on what is arguably the most interesting corporate dynasty still in place today. When you consider the power that Rupert Murdoch wields through his media properties, what Bill Gates does and the Walton family retail empire is boring by comparison.

Maybe Lachlan felt bad that his father mis-used his power to back the Iraq invasion by the Coalition of the willing, which comprised the US, UK and Australia – the three countries where he wields the most influence.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey