When Lachlan Murdoch announced his departure from NewsCorp last Friday, taking watchers by surprise, there were obviously noises about what it meant for News Corp. and the succession of the spawn of Rupert Murdoch. But with six children by three wives, a significant family trust (with a 28.5 percent voting stake in News Corp. – that’s $6.1 billion), and rumblings about discord within the ranks, it is shaping up to resemble something out of a Jeffrey Archer book (you’re not to highbrow for this reference, are you? “The Prodigal Daughter?” “First Among Equals?” My one-time favorite “Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less?”). In any case, we’re talking high drama in a veritable global royal family of media – and suddenly the kingdom is showing cracks from the inside.
The NYT is on the case – all over it, in fact, reporting yesterday that Lachlan resigned because of how a controlling Rupert “interfered in his business dealings and undermined him.” Now, Lachlan gets to say to his dad “You’re not the boss of me!” and mean it.
In the meantime, Rupert’s other son, James, is now coming into the limelight (or, harsh glare of media scrutiny, take your pick). Considering that Rupe actually once referred to Lachlan as “first among equals,” will James really get to step up or will he just end up minding the store while Lachlan goes all Prodigal-Son-you-don’t-own-me-I’m-not-just-one-of-your-little-toys on his dad? (After all, just because he resigned now does not mean he’s gone forever, and of course he can be bequeathed right back into it – didn’t any of you see “The Mountain” on the WB with Oliver Hudson?).
And this is before we turn our attention to the money, and the wives: Rupert’s third wife, Wendi Deng, wants to amend the family trust to include her two children – totally fair, by the way, and the family seems cool with that – but they’re balking at amending the trust to give them control (obviously Deng would be the trustee). Rupert’s second wife, Anna Mann, passed on taking a huge stake in the company in the divorce settlement in lieu of negotiating an ironclad trust cementing her children’s entitlement to the media empire. Drama! Conflict! Mother bears snarling over their young! Seriously, this is quite a good story.
Rounding out the competing, shifting stake are the News Corp. stalwarts whom Rupert didn’t sire but are nonetheless serious power players: our man at Fox News Roger Ailes, and News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin, who will be stepping in for Lachlan (except for at the Post). The WSJ speculates today on the power struggle that could evolve between these two, who already have Rupert’s ear (indeed, the WSJ says that Lachlan often felt frozen out by his dad, Ailes and Fox TV CEO Jack Abernethy).
Will the media dynasty survive? Will the children of Rupert and Wendi Deng — Grace, 3, and Chloe, 2 — emerge as challengers to the fate of the family trust? Will Kalan get a crack at the trust, too, or will the bitter conflict with his aunts spill over into the sandbox? More to the point, will we ever get to see a picture of Lachlan’s “swirling Celtic tattoo“? So many questions. We don’t have the answers, but we do have a wee musical moment inspired by Lachlan’s unsung younger brother. Listen. Enjoy.