‘Succession’ struggles in the Murdoch dynasty | Inquirer Business

‘Succession’ struggles in the Murdoch dynasty

Succession,” the family business drama, just wrapped its final season, depicting power struggles among the founder’s children after his sudden demise. I analyzed the show (March 31, April 7 and April 14, 2022), so now let’s turn to the clan that inspired it—that of 92-year-old Australian media baron Rupert Murdoch.

Thanks to my psychology mentor Allen Tan for sending Vanity Fair’s May 2023 cover story by Gabriel Sherman, the source of much of what follows.

Believing that “a Darwinian struggle [would] produce the most capable heir,” says Sherman, Murdoch pitted his three children in his second marriage—Elisabeth, 54, Lachlan, 51 and James, 50, “against each other their entire lives.”


Elisabeth was deemed the most qualified, but Murdoch preferred a male successor, so she left the family empire and launched her own TV production company. Lachlan, “who seemed happiest rock climbing” rather than running a business, was Murdoch’s favorite, but he quit Fox News after quarreling with former chief Roger Ailes, leaving the door open for James, who vowed to make the family company less right wing.


Murdoch though is a die-hard conservative, so in 2015, he asked Lachlan to return after a 10-year absence.

“The brothers no longer speak,” says Sherman. “James is horrified by Fox News and tells people the network’s embrace of climate denialism, white nationalism and stolen election conspiracies is a menace to American democracy. But to overthrow Lachlan and get control of Fox, James needs Elisabeth and Prudence (Murdoch’s daughter from his first wife) to back him—and that is hardly assured.”

Polarized US politics exacerbated the family conflict. In 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed a lawsuit against Fox, whose hosts and guests averred that voting machines stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. In 2023, Fox acknowledged that it had uttered lies about Dominion, paying more than $700 million in damages.

“It’s ironic that Murdoch’s fortunes would become entwined with Trump’s, because Murdoch found Trump appalling,” says Sherman. “Murdoch was a longtime champion of immigration reform and free trade and loathed Trump’s nativism and know-nothingism … Once Trump was in the White House, however … Fox News became de facto state TV. It was a continuation of Murdoch’s time-tested strategy of forging alliances with politicians across the ideological spectrum as long as they advanced his interests.”

After Trump condoned the neo-Nazi march in Virginia, James was so incensed that he donated $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League and tweeted, “Standing up to Nazis is essential.” This went against his brother and his father, whose networks were defending Trump.

Murdoch knew James had to go, so he sold 20th-Century Fox to Disney for $71.3 billion. In 2019, “James took his walk-away money” and left the family business, creating a fund to invest in left-wing causes.


Lachlan may be the present heir, but speculation is rife that James will stage a takeover when their father dies. The patriarch shows no signs of slowing down—he recently dissolved his fourth marriage and was about to tie the knot for the fifth time when he abruptly canceled the engagement.

“Succession” was hailed by pundits to be a modern-day retelling of King Lear, but for Sherman, “King Midas is more accurate.”

Incidentally, Lachlan complained to his father that James was feeding their family stories to the writers of “Succession.” The divorce settlement that Murdoch reached with his fourth wife mandated that she keep mum about family.

“Murdoch built a $17-billion fortune out of a small newspaper company he inherited from his father,” says Sherman. “The only thing that mattered was profit. But amassing that wealth required Murdoch to destroy virtually anything he touched: the environment, women’s rights, the Republican Party, truth, decency—even his own family.”

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Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or the ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].

TAGS: All in the Family

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