The fractured relationships of the Murdochs have been laid bare in a 20,000 word, six-month investigation by The New York Times. In the three-part report, the NYT has called many facets of the the Murdoch empire into question, including Lachlan Murdoch’s commitment to his father’s businesses.
The detailed report examines Rupert Murdoch’s business dealings and political influence across Australia, the UK and the US, looking at deals done in recent years in all three markets. It also covers the relationship between Murdoch and his adult children, and their futures with their father’s empire.
One section of the series is dedicated to the divisions among the family, with the two sons apparently barely on speaking terms and clashing on major business decisions.
Sons at war
The NYT reports Lachlan refused to buy the Murdoch Family Trust shareholdings held by his siblings James, Elisabeth and Prudence following the split and sale of Fox assets to Disney.
The Murdoch Family Trust controls a near-39% block of voting shares in News Corp and Fox, allowing the Murdochs to dominate the affairs of both companies.
Lachlan is the only one of Murdoch’s children to still be involved in the companies. He and James fell out over the future direction of the old 21st Century Fox, the sale of Fox assets to Disney and the strategy for the newly shrunk Fox.
The siblings have also reportedly clashed over the political direction of the company’s assets. Lachlan is said to be more conservative and defensive of Fox News’ pro-Trump agenda. When Trump announced his Muslim travel ban in 2017, James wanted executives to send around a company-wide memo reassuring Muslim staff. This was significantly resisted and watered-down. He privately complained the process was like “pulling teeth”.
James went so far as to put out personal statements in response to the violent 2017 Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. Lachlan, meanwhile, reportedly once went into the office of one of News Corp’s Australian papers to complain about an editorial in favour of same sex marriage during last year’s postal vote, and also believes global warming gets too much attention (a direction that News Corp’s newspapers also take).
Since the split, James has all but left the Fox empire — he will depart soon with a non-compete clause that stops him becoming CEO of a list of certain companies in media and technology for the next 12 months. (It doesn’t bar him from becoming a chairman or board member of a company.)
Elisabeth, meanwhile, struck out on her own more than a decade ago and made herself very wealthy by building the Shine TV production house to a global size and then selling it to Fox for around US$673 million.
The NYT reports that “to make a more complete break with the company” in 2018, James and his sisters offered to sell their shares to Lachlan. Rupert apparently embraced the idea but after the papers were drawn up Lachlan backed out.
At home in Australia, the chilly relationship between the siblings has been noted in recent days: in a Sydney Morning Herald write-up on Lachlan and his wife Sarah’s 20th wedding anniversary party last week, there was no note of James or Elisabeth attending, or whether they were even invited. (Tellingly, there was nothing about the party in The Australian or in the News Corp tabloids’ “Confidential” gossip column.