Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s youngest and most rebellious son, James Murdoch, resigned from the board of News Corp on Friday, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content published” by the corporation’s news outlets, which include the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, as well as “other strategic decisions” at the company.
It was not the first time that the liberal-leaning James has distanced himself from his family’s media empire over editorial decisions or has publicly criticized them. He had previously walked away from Fox Corporation — the parent company of Fox News and the Fox broadcast network, which is controlled by his father and more conservative elder brother, Lachlan — in part because he reportedly disagreed with and was embarrassed by the company’s political bent. James and his wife, Kathryn, had also been critical of how Fox News and News Corp publications in Australia have questioned the reality of climate change amid the recent wildfire crisis down under.
According to CNN Business, the resignation was not as abrupt as it may seem to outside observers (and Succession fans), but was apparently the end result of months of rising tensions. (James, by the way, has insisted he does not watch the popular HBO drama inspired by his family’s power dynamics.)
“We’re grateful to James for his many years of service to the company,” Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement responding to the resignation (which now leaves them in control of News Corp). “We wish him the very best in his future endeavors,” the statement continued. Indeed, those future endeavors, and James’s divergence from his family’s political project, have been developing for a while, as the Daily Beast summarized on Friday:
Last year, the Financial Times reported that [James] was planning to invest $1 billion in a portfolio of media companies that could include a liberal-leaning news outlet. In March, he reportedly made a large investment in start-ups aimed at tackling fake news. His private investment company, Lupa Systems, partnered with startup incubator Betaworks to fund efforts to fight disinformation and create a “more sustainable news ecosystem,” a report said.
People who know James were not surprised by Friday’s development, which seemed inevitable after he was relieved of his executive responsibilities as CEO of Twenty-First Century Fox — which largely involved the entertainment assets that were sold to the Walt Disney Co. but not the right-leaning, Trump-friendly cash cow Fox News — and began carving out an independent identity from his older brother, Lachlan, and the Murdoch empire.
Elsewhere in the non-Murdoch media, James holds minority stakes in Vice Media and Tribeca Enterprises. He is also the independent director of the board at Tesla.
As far as why James would seemingly abandon a position of great influence at News Corp rather than use it to push for reform, Brian Stelter noted in Friday’s Reliable Sources newsletter that he appears to have given up on that aim, at least for now:
Earlier this year, when I interviewed a Murdoch insider for my forthcoming book “HOAX,” the person said James was “testing the proposition of making change from the inside” by serving on the News Corp board. Friday’s move indicates that he has given up on that proposition. But he is still connected to the family through the Murdoch Family Trust, which holds key voting shares in both companies. Rupert has four votes in the trust, and his four adult children have the other four votes. What happens to the companies in the event of Rupert’s death is a constant source of media industry speculation …
James and Kathryn have also been critical of the Trump administration and recently made significant donations to the presidential campaign of Joe Biden, after previously having donated to the campaigns of presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and John Hickenlooper during the Democratic primaries.
James had once been considered the family front-runner to take over the Murdoch empire, but his brother Lachlan ultimately won the favor of their father for that ascension and has been consolidating power for years. When James ran the family’s publications in Europe, he became a central figure in the infamous phone-hacking scandal that brought down the family’s News of the World tabloid in the U.K. and damaged James’s professional credibility.
So with Friday’s announcement, James appears to be signaling to the world that he wants no part in running his family’s controversial media empire, even if he will continue to personally profit from it.