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The Boy Who Wouldn't Be King

And then, finally, there was the dustup over Crime Line. Rupert probably didn’t say, ‘Don’t listen to Lachlan.’ But that’s how it registered with the son. “Lachlan just felt the stations were getting no respect,” says an exec close to him, “and Lachlan personified the stations. He’s up against Chernin, Ailes, and now his father’s doing it; well, add it all up.” Lachlan added it up this way to one colleague: “To get overridden for no reason, it’s not something you want to spend your life dealing with. Any exec in that position, I think, would have left.”

As he mulled his options, Lachlan spoke to his sister, Elisabeth, who’d been through a similar experience. Rupert had sent her to be managing director of BSkyB. “Liz’s credit was not given to her, and many of her failings she had her nose rubbed in,” was the impression of one News Corp. source. “It got to the point where she just thought, ‘Fuck this.’ And she walked out.” She now runs her own TV production company, Shine, in England, which recently sold a 15 percent stake to Sony—not Rupert’s Fox—a deal that valued her four-year-old company at $60 million.

“It’s easier to be a Murdoch outside of News Corp. than inside,” Liz has said, a sentiment she no doubt communicated to Lachlan.

James, the last Murdoch offspring left at News Corp., is, for the moment, insulated. He’s in England, running BSkyB, a public company with its own board of directors. Though Rupert is board chairman, and pressured the directors to appoint James, he’s not in the office next door. Plus, James’s latest earnings, released five days after Lachlan’s resignation, were spectacular, which also ensures independence. People sing his praises, even members of the News Corp. inner circle. He’s said to be steely, smart, articulate, good in a room. He has that ineffable quality that makes a leader. The implied comparison is with Lachlan, though Lachlan doesn’t take it that way. To the older brother, BSkyB is James’s Australia.

Thinking about James, Lachlan told a colleague, “I should have stayed a year or two longer in Australia. What I gave them was fixed and running well. I should have stayed there. See the fruits of your efforts.” And that’s what he counsels James to do. “He’s done a great job and should stay with this company for a couple of years and drive it and show the world, then maybe come back.”

For Rupert, Wendi seemed to inaugurate a second youth. “He’s in the best physical shape he’s ever been,” says one friend. Remarking on the boss’s vigor was now the order of the day.

Rupert wasn’t completely surprised by the direction of Lachlan’s thinking. In recent months, Lachlan had gone to his dad with some of his frustrations. Rupert realized that relating to a boss who is also your father can be challenging, though he figured that was Lachlan’s challenge. “Lachlan found it a little bit difficult. It shouldn’t be, but I think he found that,” Rupert told a friend.

For Lachlan, though, the stakes seemed vaster than his title or his prerogatives. “You don’t want to wake up in ten years’ time and feel your soul has been destroyed,” Lachlan thought. “For what? One day you might run the company?”

Lachlan has a child now, a 10-month-old son, another factor that seemed to urge independence upon him. He’d always felt loyalty and love going up, to his father, reason enough to stay in the company as long as he had. But now Lachlan imagined his infant son’s point of view, conflated, perhaps, with his own. “Are you your own man?” he imagined his son wondering. “Without a son you could say, ‘Well, do it for a couple more years, see where things go,’ ” Lachlan thought.

Of course, his Australian wife, Sarah, was also dying to return home. “Both of us now, all we think about is how we’re going to get back to Australia one day,” she said just a few months back.

Rupert was saddened by Lachlan’s decision to quit. It must have seemed, momentarily, a betrayal, his chosen successor simply walking off. Rupert, though, decided he couldn’t blame Lachlan. He too had bristled at a father’s influence—in college, to the dismay of his capitalist dad, Rupert was the campus leftist. Perhaps, too, there was some relief. Maybe Lachlan breathed down Rupert’s neck, too, a constant reminder that some day he would be replaced. Looking at Lachlan, he must have occasionally felt his will to conquer ineluctably thwarted.

And so Lachlan wanted to do his own thing and told his dad he wanted to do it in Australia. Wasn’t that, Rupert decided, really, just like a Murdoch? Anyhow, Lachlan seemed determined. And willfulness in his children always made Rupert crow with delight. “Once Lachlan makes up his mind . . . ,” Rupert told a friend.