In a move that surely made the Succession theme play in the heads of all who got the push notification, Rupert Murdoch announced today that the “time is right” for him to step down as chair of Fox Corporation and News Corp, ending his seven-decade reign as mastermind of the media landscape. His retirement won’t begin until November, but the great unbundling of his media empire has already begun.
Still, what an empire it is, or was. Murdoch, 92, got his start at 21 years old, when his father died and left him in charge of his relatively small Australian newspaper company. On taking the helm, he upped circulation by shifting their coverage to be more tabloidy. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s he continued to build that portfolio, gobbling up everything from The Sun in the UK to The Village Voice and New York magazine in the US.
By the 1980s, Murdoch was casting his gaze toward film and TV, taking over regional news stations and the movie studio 20th Century Fox. The Fox broadcast network launched in 1986, Fox News a decade later. By the early aughts, Murdoch set his sights on new media, writing a Scrooge McDuck–sized $580 million check to then-superhot social network Myspace.
Soon, a spark lit a fuse that set the whole dumpster on fire.
It’s an easy shorthand to say “Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp ruined discourse,” but that’s also not far from the truth. (The notion of “truth” is also something Murdoch’s empire has had a hand in destabilizing.) News Corp ownership effectively ruined Myspace, making way for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to host the public square, but the influence of Murdoch and his companies spread regardless. As WIRED reporters Vittoria Elliott and Peter Guest noted earlier this year, Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson “helped bring often dangerous misinformation into the mainstream around the world.” Murdoch may have never controlled Facebook or Twitter, but the people his companies platformed dominated the conversation on them anyway.
“For Rupert Murdoch, all of his media empire was a way of trying to push certain ideas,” says Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
In the US, this was most evident in the way Fox News wed itself with the Trump administration, a marriage that was for a long time beneficial to both parties but also led to Fox News agreeing to pay $787 million to settle a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems that “would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 presidential election,” as the Associated Press put it. It also led to revelations that Carlson, in the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection, sent texts saying that he hated Trump “passionately.” Carlson was canned by Fox News in April.
Murdoch newspapers in the UK backed Brexit and got caught up in a phone hacking scandal. In Australia, where his family’s news empire still holds massive influence, Murdoch periodicals showed skepticism about climate change. Today, as news spread that Murdoch was stepping down, Angelo Carusone, the CEO of watchdog group Media Matters for America, issued a statement saying, “The world is worse off because of Rupert Murdoch. No one should sugarcoat the damage he caused.”