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Rupert Murdoch Plans To Step Down As CEO Of 21st Century Fox


Rupert Murdoch always has a plan, and now he is putting in place the structure to make sure that his family keeps hold of one of the world's largest media empires. His younger son James is now to become the CEO of 21st Century Fox. His son Lachlan, co-chair of the board, is bumped up to executive co-chair. This was first reported today by CNBC and confirmed by NPR. And to talk about what it all means, I'm joined now from New York by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hi, David.


SIEGEL: Rupert Murdoch can be a notoriously hands-on guy, down to dictating headlines in the newspapers owned by Fox's sister company, News Corp. Why is he doing this and why is he doing it now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this has been the game plan from back when these guys were teenagers or even younger. Murdoch has always wanted to hand off his company to the next generation of Murdochs. He was given a small newspaper company by his own father. He has six children, four of them are daughters and he never really wanted to hand any of this over to anyone except his sons. He pitted them in competition. For a while it looked like Lachlan was going to be the favorite son and then Lachlan returned to Australia after some political infighting. It looked as though James was going to ascend and then the hacking scandal seemed to knock him off course. But here he is, back to where he always wanted to be, in his 80s assuring himself of a third generation of Murdochs.

SIEGEL: 21st Century Fox contains such outfits as Fox News, FOX Broadcast network, Fox Studios, the cable channel FX, also a share in the streaming service Hulu. What does this plan change at the top mean for all of those elements of 21st Century Fox?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, together Lachlan and James Murdoch are going to be able to reshape Fox in coming years. I don't think you're going to see immediately any great changes at Fox News where Roger Ailes has made so much money for the company, but that may shift when he finally gives up the reins there. You saw James champion an investment in VICE, the kind of renegade new media company. And over at the sister company, News Corp, what really remains to be seen is how swiftly and how comprehensively the brothers decide to divest the company of their newspaper holdings, which financially don't make a great deal of sense, even though they're at the emotional core of what Rupert Murdoch built up over the years.

SIEGEL: Fox is a publicly-traded company, but will now see control passed to the next generation of Murdochs. You mentioned the British tabloid hacking scandal of 2011. How did that affect succession plans?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think you're watching Murdoch essentially put an exclamation point on his increasingly strongly held belief that this would be a damning episode but in the rearview mirror and fading fast. James really was badly tarnished by this. He was the chairman and CEO of News Corp's holdings in the U.K. at the time of the scandal. He was implicated, perhaps, in a payoff to try to avoid disclosure on this stuff, and he managed to essentially walk out, but damaged. What Murdoch is saying is, look, he's spent four years attending to Fox's television holdings in Europe and in the U.S. and he's built a strong record. Shareholders actually trust him and seem to believe in him, and he is the face of 21st Century Fox moving forward.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David's also the author of "Murdoch's World: The Last Of The Old Media Empires." Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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