Michael Wolff, a journalist who has been following the Murdoch family for years, has a book coming out about Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. Wolff is more sensational than reliable — he writes tabloid-friendly books — but in They Fall, he predicts the end of Fox News. He also suggests in the book that 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch is not as mentally acute as he once was and that he has the mind of a 92-year-old man.
It’s unclear if that is the reason Rupert Murdoch announced today that he is retiring from Fox News. His son Lachlan (the bad son) will take complete control over Fox News and News Corp. now, while Rupert takes on the position of Chairman Emeritus. In a memo to staff, Rupert said that “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.”
What does this mean in practical terms? Probably that Rupert Murdoch will continue to call all the shots as long as he is still able. However, Wolff also says that Rupert is frail and that the next Presidential election will likely be his last. What happens to Fox News when Murdoch passes? That’s the big question. Four of his six kids will make that decision, and only one — Lachlan — wants to maintain the status quo. One sister wants to sell, the other sister will go along with the majority, and the more liberal James Murdoch wants to blow it up and make it “a force for good.” Burning it to the ground may be the closest anyone will get to making Fox News a force for good.
What Wolff also says is that no one in that company — especially Rupert — likes Donald Trump, but everyone seems to understand that Donald Trump continues to generate its revenue. In the meantime, the news network has a lot of challenges ahead of it: How does it work against Trump while keeping its audience happy; what will it do when Donald Trump is gone; and how will it navigate a streaming future as cord-cutters continue to abandon cable?
It’s a smart move on Rupert’s part. He can still call the shots (as long as he is healthy enough to do so), but he doesn’t have to take any of the blame for the network’s slow journey toward irrelevance.