On Thursday, in a move at once momentous and mundane, the 92-year-old Rupert Murdoch announced he would transition to the role of chairman emeritus at Fox Corp. and News Corp., formally passing the reins of what’s left of his international media empire to his eldest and favored son, Lachlan. The announcement predictably induced a flood of obituaries for Murdoch’s historic ascent from a provincial Australian newspaper heir, seven decades ago, to the incomparable international media baron whose indulgence with oversized-all-caps right-wing populism forever coarsened the civic and political culture in at least three of the world’s leading democracies and, in the inadvertent coup de grace, helped deliver Donald Trump to the White House. Along the way, Murdoch also fleeced Bob Iger for $71 billion.
Of course, Murdoch is not dead, not yet, nor is there any indication—so long as he is of relative health and sentience—that he plans to relinquish his throne. Indeed, Thursday’s announcement effectively formalized a corporate arrangement that has already been in place for years—one wherein Lachlan officially runs the business day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter, while his father, who still controls the company by virtue of his voting shares, weighs in as early and often as he wants and inevitably finds a receptive, deferential audience. “In my new role, I can guarantee you I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” Rupert wrote in his memo to employees. “When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”
Which raises the question: Why now? Perhaps it is his health; for every Murdoch associate who tells you he’s “sharp as a tack,” there’s another friend or interlocutor who says his age is really starting to show—“fading,” “addled,” etcetera. And how can it not? He’s 92. Others have posited that Murdoch is trying to distance himself from the company ahead of the impending Smartmatic defamation lawsuit, an interpretation that seems to grossly underestimate the acumen of Smartmatic’s lawyers, who presumably know that Rupert’s post-scandal title transfer will not save him from the witness stand. Among the many ludicrous claims, Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff proffers that Rupert did this because of damning allegations in his new book. Wolff now calls it “the book that took down Rupert.” Not quite, though Rupert’s improbable timing may well furnish his chronicler with another Hamptons house.