With a net worth of $17 billion, Rupert Murdoch is one of the world’s richest men. And somehow, that figure undersells his influence. Murdoch, who stepped down today from the boards of Fox Corp. and News Corp., has used his media empire to wield more influence over the right-wing politics of the Western world than just about any other person.
He’s done this, in large part, by railing against liberal “elites,” claiming that his media properties, which include the Fox News channel in the US, are the sole truth-tellers in a sea of news outlets propagating left-wing ideology.
Murdoch’s exit comes amid a difficult year for Fox News. In April, it paid $787.5 million to settle defamation charges after its hosts peddled conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, claiming its voting machines were rigged in favor of Joe Biden and against Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential election. It’s still facing similar allegations in a $2.7 billion suit from the voting machine company Smartmatic.
Fox is also dealing with the ratings crash that followed the ouster of its top host, Tucker Carlson, and it settled charges of an abusive workplace with a former Carlson producer for $12 million.
Murdoch turns the company over to his son Lachlan—who, unlike some of his siblings, shares his father’s right-wing proclivities. The elder Murdoch, meanwhile, made sure to leave with a bang, riffing on the same anti-liberal, anti-elite motifs on which he built his companies.
Murdoch’s retirement memo, annotated
We’ve annotated Murdoch’s memo to put his parting words into context. (Murdoch’s own text is in bold; Quartz’s annotations are unbolded and italicized.)
I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News. For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole Chairman of both companies.
Lachlan has been the ideological constant in the Murdoch lineage. His brother James Murdoch resigned as CEO of Fox after its entertainment properties were sold to Disney in 2019, and stepped down from the News Corp. board in 2020 citing “disagreements over certain editorial contents” and has since drifted further leftward, bankrolling Democrats and center-left causes. James’ exit has essentially cleared the way for Lachlan to assume control of the Murdoch empire.
Neither excessive pride nor false humility are admirable qualities. But I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me. Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.
Our companies are in robust health, as am I. Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years — I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.
At 92, Murdoch seems to signal that he’s going to stay involved not only in the business of running his companies, but also his philosophical mission of promoting “freedom of speech” and “freedom of thought.” Here, he plays into the central conceit of Fox—and of conservative media—a conceit predicated on all *other* media being uniformly left-wing and censorious to oppositional views.
My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.
Murdoch frames his work as mission: He’s forever railing against enemies—real or imagined—who seek to bring him, his empire, and his political beliefs down. There’s no self-awareness that Murdoch the wealthy, Murdoch the powerful, Murdoch the political kingmaker, Murdoch the voice of conservatism, Murdoch the TV tycoon would certainly qualify as an elite.
In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas. Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.
In short, Murdoch isn’t done yet. The companies are in the tender clutch of his scion and the old king will be watching closely, for as long as he can.
I look forward to seeing you wherever you work and whatever your responsibility. And I urge you to make the most of this great opportunity to improve the world we live in.