New York Times reporters Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg spent six months on three continents, interviewing more than 150 people for their blockbuster three-part article on Rupert Murdoch, the infighting among his family, and their unfathomably powerful media company, which has roiled global politics in recent years.
The article is long, but essential, tracing Murdoch’s rise to power, from his birth in 1931 to a near-death experience on a yacht in the Caribbean last year. Read the whole thing if you want the history, the context, and the vivid reporting. But if you just want the juiciest little tidbits, here they are:
The Murdochs have been hiding Rupert’s falls.
The 86-year-old has taken a few spills in recent years that his family has managed to keep quiet. But they couldn’t do much to hide his fall on his son Lachlan’s yacht in January of 2018. After he was airlifted to a hospital in L.A., his family thought he might die.
The doctors quickly spotted broken vertebrae, which required immediate surgery, as well as a spinal hematoma, increasing the risk of paralysis or even death. Hall called his adult children in a panic, urging them to come to California prepared to make peace with their father.
The Murdochs have gone to a family therapy session with a therapist who “specialized in working with dynastic families.”
If that sounds like a scene from Succession, it’s because it was.
Rupert Murdoch’s father, Keith, had some questionable opinions of his own.
He was a member of the Eugenics Society of Victoria and in an editorial once wrote that the great question facing Britain was “will she, if needs be, fight — for a White Australia?”
Murdoch’s family was suspicious of Wendi Deng, Rupert’s third wife, whom he divorced in 2013.
James and at least one other company executive had heard from senior foreign officials that they believed she was a Chinese intelligence asset. And family members felt that she treated their father terribly, calling him “old” and “stupid.”
Murdoch wasn’t so sure about Trump, at first.
Murdoch recognized Trump’s appeal as a tabloid character and ratings driver, but he did not see him as a serious person, let alone a credible candidate for president. “He’s a [expletive] idiot,” Murdoch would say when asked about Trump, three people close to him told us (Through a spokeswoman, Murdoch denied that he ever used this phrase to describe Trump.).
Murdoch thought Hillary was going to win.
As the early returns came in on election night, Kathryn received a text message from her father-in-law, who was in the Fox newsroom: “Looks like your girl’s going to win.”
Sean Hannity was advising the Trump campaign.
The Fox host had effectively been a member of his campaign team, for instance pressing Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to be on the lookout for former girlfriends and employees who might make trouble for the candidate ahead of the election, two people familiar with the interactions told us.
Lachlan Murdoch personally reached out to Tucker Carlson when he was enduring criticism for his racist rhetoric.
When Tucker Carlson came under fire for his increasingly pointed attacks on immigration — “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our country poorer and dirtier and more divided” — he received personal text messages of support from Lachlan, according to two people familiar with the texts.
Three of the Murdoch kids tried to orchestrate their exit from the family business, but the deal fell through when the fourth, who would be the only Murdoch scion left in the company, got cold feet.
James saw only one solution. He would sell his stock to Lachlan and his father, and maybe his sisters would join him. What was once a complex family dynasty would become a simple hereditary monarchy. Elisabeth and Prudence enthusiastically agreed. Murdoch, too, was excited about the idea, seeing it as an opportunity to rid the company of an in-house critic. He urged Lachlan to do it: The two of them, father and son, would own the company together. The documents were drawn up, but in late 2018, given the chance to have the company to himself, Lachlan balked.