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Conservative and addicted to luxury: Lachlan, the heir to the Murdoch empire

The 52-year-old businessman will take the reins of News Corp in November as the U.S. presidential campaign kicks into gear

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Lachlan Murdoch, 52, will become sole chairman of News Corp in November.
Lachlan Murdoch, 52, will become sole chairman of News Corp in November.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

It’s known as Chartwell Mansion. The imposing estate with 18 bedrooms, 24 bathrooms and a wine cellar with space for 12,000 bottles occupies four hectares of the exclusive Bel-Air neighborhood, an ultrarich area northwest of Los Angeles. The residence was bought in 2019 for nearly $150 million, breaking the city’s real estate records. The opulent Versailles-inspired building was bought by one media mogul from another. Chartwell Mansion was owned by Jerry Perenchio, the former president of Univision, and purchased by Lachlan Murdoch, who will take the reins of the conservative media empire News Corp from his father, Rupert Murdoch, in November.

Chartwell holds a special place for American conservatives: the four acres also include the former home of Republican president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. The mansion is one of the centers of News Corp’s power. Australian journalist Penny Manning, author of the unauthorized biography of Lachlan, The Successor, claims that the businessman summoned the most important executives of the company to Chartwell in February last year. The meeting was a kind of summit to determine the digital strategy of the media empire, which is based in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. Manning says the meeting was a clear sign that Lachlan was ready to take the reins of the company. He is currently co-chairman of News Copy, but will inherit sole control of the throne after the company’s annual meeting in November.

Lachlan, 52, is the third child of Rupert Murdoch’s six children. He is the second child that the tycoon had with his second wife, Scottish journalist Anna Murdoch Mann. She separated from the media mogul in 1999. Although Lachlan was born in London, he was raised in New York with his older sister, Elisabeth, and his younger brother, James. He studied Philosophy at Princeton, but very soon began the path that heirs must follow to gain control of a family business. Lachlan worked at several of the group’s newspapers, especially in the United Kingdom and Australia, a country where he spent a decade and which he still uses as his base of operations. His siblings, on the other hand, focused on the audiovisual part of the corporation, which also includes the Harper Collins publishing house. He joined the Board of Directors of News Corp in 1996.

In 2002, at the age of 30, he joined the Board of Fox, the group’s main television channel. At the time, his father celebrated his son’s “intellect and energy.” But Lachlan appeared to rebel when he left News Corp in 2005. His exit was due to differences with his father, who favored Roger Ailes, the controversial executive who started Fox News and masterminded the channel’s conservative focus to deeply mark American culture. Outside the family business, Lachlan created an investment fund in Australia, with which he founded businesses in the sector. These ventures included Nova Entertainment, a chain of local radio stations, and Network 10.

Fight for succession

It was during this period, when the battle for a succession became especially heated. Fans of the HBO hit show Succession like to compare the show with the story of the Murdochs. With Lachlan looking for success in his businesses, the focus was on his brother James, who ran the Sky satellite channel in England and India. James also oversaw Fox’s international business for more than 20 years, although his political views were more aligned with progressive causes. In fact, he publicly showed his disagreements with the editorial policy of Fox News, especially after the 2020 elections, when the network’s journalists repeated the false allegations of voter fraud, despite not having evidence of it.

Lachlan returned to the company in 2014 at the request of his father. He moved with his wife, model Sarah Murdoch, to Los Angeles, to be halfway between Sydney and New York, where the company’s headquarters are located. The city, home to many celebrities, allowed him to raise the profile of his luxurious life. Lachlan likes to collect custom-designed Porsches and owns a yacht worth $175 million.

Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, during a U.S. Open match in 2018.
Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, during a U.S. Open match in 2018.Jean Catuffe (GC Images)

When Lachlan returned to the company, Rupert Murdoch realized that he was more in tune with the business’ vision and political ideology than Lachlan, whom he appointed co-president of News Corp and the 21st Century Fox studio. In November 2018, it became clear to almost everyone that Rupert Murdoch had chosen him as his successor. That was when shareholders held their last meeting before 21st Century Fox passed into the hands of Disney, a $72 billion deal that closed in 2019. James Murdoch did not speak at the meeting, despite having been the network’s top executive for the past three years. The star of the event was Lachlan, who dedicated his speech to his father and how he had forged the media empire for more than six decades. “He has always had a passion for engaging audiences with lasting stories and experiences, although perhaps the most enduring of all stories is his own,” he said.

With the sale of the studio and its content to Disney, Fox condensed its television business into sports and news. Lachlan’s appointment has alarmed some U.S. media analysts. “Lachlan certainly is a less competent leader than his father, but his worldview is considerably more brutal. His leadership will likely just intensify the misconduct, misinformation, and malevolence that have come to define Murdoch media,” said Angelo Carusone, the CEO of Media Matters for America, a progressive nonprofit organization dedicated to acting as a counterweight to the fake news spread by the ultraconservative press in the United States. In a statement, Carusone compared Rupert Murdoch’s decision to hand over control to Lachlan to “tossing a match onto the kindling he stacked.”

Murdoch biographers say Lachlan does not meddle in editorial decisions as much as his father and prefers to concentrate on corporate strategy, especially at a time when the newspaper business is in decline. Critics of the Murdochs, however, point out that Lachlan’s conservative vision closely mirrors his father’s and that as co-chairman, he allowed the rise of the controversial Fox host Tucker Carlson, who the network’s top star. Carlson, who became a beacon for the far right, was fired in April, a week after Fox paid $787 million to avoid a defamation trial for spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election. That money was used to settle a lawsuit filed by Dominion, after Fox hosts and guests blamed the electronic voting system for stealing the election from Donald Trump, so that Joe Biden would win. Up until then, Lachlan defended Carlson against the controversies he faced. But when the Dominion scandal broke out, it was not long tenable to keep him on the network.

Lachlan will now have to lead the company in a new transformation that comes as the U.S. braces for the 2024 presidential election in November. For now, Lachlan’s appointment has shaken up the executive leadership of News Corp. Anne Dias-Griffin, who asked the Murdochs to distance themselves from Donald Trump after the assault on the Capitol, is not running again to be on the board of directors. Nor is Jacques Nasser will also leave. Fox is nominating former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to be a new director.

In January of this year, Rupert Murdoch canceled the merger of Fox and News Corp, two businesses that were separated in 2013 and that Lachlan had proposed reuniting to consolidate his power. Among the critics of the operation was James, his younger brother. The decision to call off the merger was a setback to Lachlan, the man chosen to reign the empire his father built.

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