It has always been Rupert’s dream that all three of the children from his marriage to Anna would play a role in the company in the future—not that he’s always shown it. “Rather than looking for a single successor, you have three,” a family friend says. “In James you have someone who understands platform and pay television. In Liz you have someone who understands content. And in Lachlan, you have someone who understands newspapers.”
But that all-for-one, one-for-all vision for the Murdoch future seems more distant than ever. James is fighting for his corporate life. He has a new office in New York—but his future is an open question until the phone-hacking crisis reaches its denouement. Liz has removed herself entirely from the crisis, and Lachlan shows no sign of wanting to return to the fold, even though Rupert has been quietly making moves in Australia to persuade Lachlan to take over News Corp.’s Australian newspapers. “I don’t think Lachlan wants to do it,” a former executive tells me. “He’s got his own money. Why would he want to? The Australian papers are a small, declining, unimportant part of the empire.”
For James and Liz, the reconciliation has been slow. In September, when the family assembled off the coast of Spain to celebrate Lachlan’s 40th birthday, Liz left before James and his wife, Kathryn, flew in. Rebekah Brooks was invited but didn’t attend. The party took place aboard the Rosehearty, Rupert’s 184-foot yacht. Several weeks ago, James and Liz spent time together at a News Corp. digital conference. James is focusing on saving the business. On November 10, he returns to the parliamentary committee to answer allegations that his knowledge of widespread hacking at News of the World was more extensive than he first testified. His relationship with his sister can wait.
But to Liz, James’s role is one of the keys to the business. “Liz wants James to take responsibility for the actions and do something that’s redemptive. At some point, I suspect the thing that will bring them together is the love they have for their father, as a brother and a sister,” says a friend. But don’t expect Rupert to be the one to bring them to the table. “I’m not assuming Rupert will have anything to do with it.”
And many in the company believe that Freud will advise her not to be too hasty when it comes to reconciliation. Freud, according to a close friend, believes that James is a hothead, with little of Rupert’s subtlety, not fully equipped to lead News Corp., especially at a moment like this. James’s theatrical arrival in the offices of the Independent, a Murdoch competitor, in order to dress down its editor, was seen by many as a minor-league move. And his speech attacking the BBC during News Corp.’s proposed takeover of BSkyB was even worse. And nowadays at News Corp., the closing of News of the World, which had been James’s call, is seen by some as an error, signaling weakness while accomplishing little. In this view, Freud is not so much pushing Elisabeth as helping to preserve Rupert’s legacy. A few weeks ago, I e-mailed Freud to ask about what the family was going through. “Murdoch stuff seems mad and sad,” he replied.
“Freud’s whole strategy is keep her out of it long enough until James wrecks himself,” a source close to the company says. “It’s fairly transparent.”
* This story has been updated to clarify that Rupert Murdoch imported the British show Pop Idol to America.