There’s been a behind-the-scenes war being waged between Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James Murdoch, over the direction of Fox News for the last year or so, and while Rupert has won most of the battles, his soldiers keep shooting themselves in the foot, which has given James Murdoch an unexpected edge.
While this is not an endorsement necessarily, James Murdoch is the least awful of the Murdoch clan. He’s a businessman and he’s made his share of mistakes in that regard, but he’s long been considered both the brightest and most rebellious of the Murdoch family. He worked for the Harvard Lampoon in college, he edited underground magazines, he had bleached hair and an eyebrow stud in his 20s and ran a couple of successful record labels. Now in his mid 40s, his views have remained far more moderate than those of his father. His wife works for the Clinton Climate Initiative, and the two founded the Quadrivium Foundation, which focuses on natural resources, science, civic life, childhood health and equal opportunity, which doesn’t exactly sound like the pet causes of Fox News viewers. James has also been very supportive of National Geographic’s push to highlight concerns about global warming (the Murdochs also own National Geographic).
He’s also what Stephen Bannon might call a globalist, and his vision for the future of Fox News last year was as a global network that could compete with CNN (Fox News, which has huge ratings in the United States, is not a global brand). James Murdoch is also behind the plan for Rupert to purchase Sky News, which could give Fox News a global partner if Fox News weren’t so reviled internationally. That, however, would require reshaping the network.
Reshaping the network is something that the younger Murdochs have been keen to do. In fact, it was James and Lachlan who pushed to re-sign Megyn Kelly in the hopes of making her the voice of the network’s future. Megyn Kelly, however, bolted due to the culture of harassment at Fox News.
But the younger Murdochs did succeed in ousting Roger Ailes, purportedly against the wishes of Rupert Murdoch. And now it appears that Bill O’Reilly is also gone, not because he harassed at least seven women, but because of the money Fox News is losing because O’Reilly harassed seven women. Also, because Bill O’Reilly was seriously complicating the potential merger between Fox News and Sky News.
So, O’Reilly is all but gone, which means the top two personalities of Fox News — the two people Fox News has been most defined by in recent years — are gone (or will be gone), along with Roger Ailes, the guiding voice of the network. That means that Fox News is now the network of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, two Trump sycophants whose fortunes will likely rise and fall with the President. Carlson and Hannity aren’t exactly the kind of personalities one builds a franchise around.
That’s not likely to sit particularly well with James Murdoch, which means that — unless Fox News can quickly manufacture another O’Reilly — that the network’s best bet, financially, might be to moderate and expand globally. “The model around [Fox News] will evolve,” Murdoch told The Hollywood Reporter last year. “And we have to have an appetite for that change. Too often in the industry, we focus on the existing or past business rules and not on the product itself and new business rules and opportunities that are going to emerge from that.”
With the old guard being pushed out of Fox News, and its demographic rapidly aging, the departure of O’Reilly may actually give James Murdoch an opportunity he’s been looking for to step in and refocus the network; reach a younger, more mainstream demographic; and aim toward greater profits by broadening the network’s appeal worldwide. This is an opportunity to do the right thing here not only morally, but financially. Ultimately, that may mean that Fox News has begun its slow march toward being slightly less reprehensible.