It's not his son James, who, before this summer's scandal, looked to many like the plausible heir apparent, being groomed for the crown by running News Corp.'s U.K. properties. Instead, it's deputy chairman Chase Carey, at least for now. "Chase is my partner and if anything happened to me I'm sure he'll get it immediately — if I went under a bus," Murdoch said on yesterday's News Corp. earnings call (during the very few minutes reporters were allowed to ask questions). "Chase and I have full confidence in James," he continued — a sentence that, given the context, seems a little hard to believe. But it could indicate that the elder Murdoch knows it might be impolitic so soon after the scandal to anoint James his successor; after a few years and good behavior, perhaps he'll get bumped back up ahead of Chase. After all, Murdoch and Co. seemed to find the idea hilarious that they'd actually have to deal with replacing the CEO anytime soon: “I hope the job won’t be open in the near future,” he said, to "riotous laughter of News Corp. executives."
The question of who will succeed Murdoch has long been a parlor game in certain media and business circles. Even as recently as last month's testimony before Parliament, Murdoch indicated that he wanted it to be one of his children — with James scandal-tainted, some of the smart money shifted to Elisabeth Murdoch. Apparently not.
News Corp. watchers also had another piece of speculation dashed in yesterday's call: Murdoch quashed rumors that he might sell or break off the newspaper division from the mothership corporation. "I'm feeling very confident," he said — and by all accounts, he sounded very confident and in command, a far cry from the (perhaps strategic) mumbling-old-man visage he presented at the parliamentary hearings last month. Murdoch noted that the scandal was confined to "one small corner" of the empire. While those of us who've closely followed its fast spread might snort at that notion, investors apparently agree with Murdoch: Their questions on the call barely touched on the scandal or even the newspaper division, concerned more with the bigger News Corp. picture, which still showed profits. Maybe Murdoch and Co. can afford to laugh.