October 10, 2020 Editor

James Murdoch, Rebellious Scion

Increasingly uncomfortable with News Corp’s politics and profit motives, Rupert’s younger son chose chickens and sheep over Fox, and insists he doesn’t watch ‘Succession.’

photo above: John Phillips/Getty Images


WN: A very telling article highlighted below . . .


WASHINGTON — As we sat down to lunch in my garden, I mentioned to James Murdoch that I’ve been reading a lot of classical plays lately and a popular theme is the rancorous battle between two brothers over a kingdom.

“But these plays end in cannibalism and civil war, so at least your family hasn’t gone there yet,” I said brightly.

Above his mask and behind his Kingsman glasses, Mr. Murdoch’s brown eyes widened with alarm.

The issue of dynastic succession — the real one and the one in “Succession,” the Emmy-winning HBO drama that is inspired by the Murdochs — was definitely on the menu, along with fried calamari.

Making a break: Mr. Murdoch in Georgetown.Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

Mr. Murdoch, 47, resigned from the board of News Corp this summer with an elliptical statement, saying he was leaving “due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.”

Rupert Murdoch’s youngest child with his second wife, Anna, is loath to get into the epic family drama that found its climax in the 15 months between pushing a deal to sell 21st Century Fox to Disney and ankling the family business he once hoped to lead.

“I reached the conclusion that you can venerate a contest of ideas, if you will, and we all do and that’s important,” he told me. “But it shouldn’t be in a way that hides agendas. A contest of ideas shouldn’t be used to legitimize disinformation. And I think it’s often taken advantage of. And I think at great news organizations, the mission really should be to introduce fact to disperse doubt — not to sow doubt, to obscure fact, if you will.

“And I just felt increasingly uncomfortable with my position on the board having some disagreements over how certain decisions are being made. So it was actually not that hard a decision to remove myself and have a kind of cleaner slate.”

The younger Mr. Murdoch’s disgust had flashed publicly before on a few occasions: He showed the disdain for Roger Ailes he shared with his more conservative, older brother Lachlan, 49.

In 2017, President Trump’s praise for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people” spurred James Murdoch to give $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. In an email to friends obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Murdoch rebuked Mr. Trump and wrote: “I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.” The email stood in sharp relief, given Fox’s fetid racism-by-night routine.

Once, James Murdoch thought he could reshape Fox. But in the summer of 2016, he failed to get his father to sign off on replacing Roger Ailes — embroiled in the sexual harassment scandals at Fox News — with David Rhodes, the former president of CBS News.

When Rupert, the chairman of the company, decided to run the network himself, the writing was on the wall. Rupert and Mr. Trump stepped up their dangerous tango and James, those who know him say, eventually decided it was time to get out of his Faustian deal.

Friends say that James has been on a collision course with his family for 15 years. His evolution has been profoundly influenced by his wife, a former communications executive. He is, as one friend puts it, “living much more in his own skin, realizing his better angels and his better instincts.”

But when your last name is Murdoch and those billions sloshing around in your bank account come from a juggernaut co-opting governments across the English-speaking world and perpetuating climate-change denial, nativism and Sean Hannity, can you ever start fresh? As a beneficiary of his family’s trust, James is still reaping profits from Rupert Murdoch’s assets. Can he be the anti-venom?

When Rupert, 89, finally leaves the stage and his elder children take over, that could make three votes in the family trust against one. Is there still time to de-Foxify Fox News — labeled a “hate-for-profit racket” by Elizabeth Warren — and other conservative News Corp outlets? Would Fox and its kin — downscale, feral creatures conjured by Rupert to help the bottom line — be the huge moneymakers they are if they went straight?

He is particularly excited about investing in start-ups created to combat fake news and the spread of disinformation, having found the proliferation of deep fakes “terrifying” because they “undermine our ability to discern what’s true and what’s not” and it “is only at the beginning as far as I can tell.” He’s funding a research program to study digital manipulation of societies, hoping to curtail “the use of technology to promulgate totalitarianism’’ and undermine democracies.

“So everything from the use of mass surveillance, telephone networks, 5G, all that stuff, domestically in a country like China, for example,” he said.

I wonder if this is some sort of expiation, given all the disinformation that News Corp has spewed. (Shades of Melania fighting cyberbullying?)

Their foundation, Quadrivium, has supported voter participation, democracy reform and climate change projects. “I never thought that we would actually be at the point where we would have climate change effects and people would still be denying it,” Ms. Murdoch said.

Mr. Murdoch donated to Pete Buttigieg in the primary, and the couple has given $1.23 million to Joe Biden. So that’s who he’ll be voting for in November then? “Hell yes,” he said with a smile.

I noted to Ms. Murdoch that the effect of News Corp on the world is astounding when you think about it, from Brexit to Trump to the Supreme Court we may be heading toward.

I noted that his father had a very dim view of Mr. Trump — in 2015, he tweeted “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” — before the pragmatic Rupert came around to the president.

“I’m just concerned that the leadership that we have, to me, just seems characterized by callousness and a level of cruelty that I think is really dangerous and then it infects the population,” he said, referring to the Trump administration. “It’s not a coincidence that the number of hate crimes in this country are rising over the last three years for the first time in a long time.”

With Mr. Trump and Fox, who is the dog and who is the tail?

“It looks to me, anyway, like it’s going to be a hard thing to understand because it probably goes back and forth,’’ he said. “I don’t think you’re going to get one pristine, consistent analysis of that phenomenon.”

Please click on: James Murdoch Demurs

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.