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How Rupert Murdoch Chose Son Lachlan in Fox’s Real-Life ‘Succession’

  • Rupert Murdoch announced he is stepping down as the leader of Fox and News Corp.
  • His elder son, Lachlan, will take over both companies, ending a decades-long family drama.
  • The Murdochs are thought to be a main source of inspiration for HBO’s “Succession”

Rupert Murdoch announced he is stepping down as chairman of Fox and News Corp. Thursday, leaving Lachlan Murdoch, his elder son, in charge. The move marks the finale to the media industry’s real-life version of “Succession.”

The Murdoch family has an infamous knack for dramatics — so much so that many events that affected the family and its companies were plucked straight from reality and put onto the screen for HBO’s hit series.

For decades, it was unclear which of Murdoch’s children would rise up as the head of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, and News Corp., an empire that includes The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and the UK’s The Times, among other assets. Some suspected that, like Logan Roy, Murdoch might never choose a successor at all, preferring to die on top rather than watch one of his kids take over.

“I’m now convinced of my own immortality,” he said after beating prostate cancer over two decades ago.

Prudence, Murdoch’s only child with his first wife, “is the only one of his children not directly competing for his business affections,” Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff wrote in 2008 for Vanity Fair.

His other three adult children — Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James — spent much of their lives competing for the title of heir apparent, reportedly beginning their training in the family business as little kids around a newspaper at breakfast.

“As friends of the Murdochs liked to say, Murdoch didn’t raise children; he raised future media moguls,” New York Times journalists Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg wrote in a 2019 investigation into the family.

Elisabeth, the eldest of Murdoch’s three children with his second wife, is often said to be the smartest of the siblings, though, as with Siobhan Roy, being a woman was never in her favor. She quit the family business years ago.

That left Lachlan and James, who have passed the title of successor between the two of them over the decades.

For much of the 2000s and 2010s, it seemed as if James would eventually take over the family business. Much like Kendall Roy, James was a quick study and the conventional choice, with the white button-downs and MBA-speak favored by Wall Street.

“James is like his father, News Corp. people believe. Or at least he tries to be,” Wolff wrote. “But it may not be so much his father that he’s emulating as some generic idea of the advanced business figure”

After joining News Corp. in his early 20s, James rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the CEO of 21st Century Fox and executive vice president of News Corp. He led the latter’s UK division during the notorious phone-hacking scandal — which, in some ways, mirrored Kendall’s cruise debacle — and, also like Kendall, has an affinity for hip hop. 

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s favorite son, Lachlan, has been a Roman Roy-esque wild card, with the same right-wing politics as the “Succession” character. While James was helping the family empire adapt to the digital age, Lachlan was in Australia, looking for his own kingdom after abruptly resigning from his position as the number three man at News Corp in 2005.

He was “the boy who wouldn’t be king,” a New York Magazine story spelled out at the time.

But the world wrote Lachlan off too soon. In 2014, he was back, this time as co-chairman of both of the family’s conglomerates. A year later, he was named executive chairman of 21st Century Fox.

“It was a big slap in the face” for James, a source told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman.

In 2020, the succession saga seemed all but officially over: Lachlan was running what was left of Fox following Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of most of its assets, and James, an outspoken Democrat, stepped down from News Corp.’s board, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content” and “certain other strategic decisions.”

“I think at great news organizations, the mission really should be to introduce fact to disperse doubt — not to sow doubt, to obscure fact, if you will,”  he told The New York Times months later. (In the same interview, he insisted he didn’t watch “Succession.”)

But as with any melodramatic narrative, chatter continued.

A source close to the family told Insider in 2021 that James was “running a whisper campaign that Lachlan is not good at his job and that he doesn’t deserve it.” That same year, James skipped his dad’s 90th birthday party.

As of this May, James and Lachlan weren’t speaking, Sherman reported, and sources told him that James is thinking up ways to take control of the company once his father is — truly — gone.

After all, as with any good saga, there is often a sequel.

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