Murdoch: the final chapter

As the divisive media mogul celebrates his 90th birthday, Tom Ward takes a look at the Succession-style legacy wranglings dogging his twilight years

“I’m a bit optimistic. I’ve got about another 175,000 hours to go,” a then 70 year-old Rupert Murdoch opined at a media event in 2001. “Maybe I can spend 75,000 productively at work…I’ve got to see that each one of those hours is well spent.”

As the Financial Review points, out, the newspaper magnate’s figurings weren’t quite on the money. According to Murdoch’s own calculations, he should have been out of circulation for good sometime in February 2021. Instead, we’re poised on the precipice of his 90th birthday, on March 11th.

Still holding on to his role as executive chairman of News Corp and co-chairman of Fox Corporation, Murdoch is soon to become one of an elite and small club of nonagenarians still operating at the head of their games. 

Few approaching 90 wield such power as the figure Ted Turner, founder of CNN, once dubbed “The most dangerous man in the world.”

With an empire including newspaper and television outlets across the globe, powerful political friends and the ability to influence the outcome of everything from Brexit to immigration policy and electoral outcomes, Turner’s estimation of Murdoch may not be far off. If not the most dangerous man in the world, he’s certainly one of the most powerful. 

As possibly the most divisive media baron of all time, Murdoch’s exceptional innings won’t be good news to all. But it does beg the question: with his 75,000 work hours now expired and his working life approaching an inevitable and natural end game, what happens to the Murdoch media empire now? 

Ted Turner once dubbed Murdoch "the most dangerous man in the world"

Much like Succession, the black comedy drama in which a family is wrested apart by a vicious power struggle over the ailing patriarch’s media empire, the Murdoch clan has long been at odds. In fact, so notorious is its very public machinations that the HBO show is said to be based on the real life headlines. But where did it all start? And what comes next?

Keith Rupert Murdoch was born in Melbourne in 1931, the son of Sir Keith Murdoch and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. His father had been a war correspondent before building a local newspaper and radio empire in Australia.

Surprisingly giving his later political mien, at Oxford, Murdoch Jr was a member of the Oxford University Labour Party, reportedly kept a bust of Lenin in his rooms, and was known as ‘Red Rupert’. 

Campus politics fell by the wayside when Murdoch’s father died, prompting Murdoch Jr to return to Australia after completing his degree, and take a hands-on approach in the business at the age of 21. He quickly became known for giving the people what they want: notably, sports stories, eye-catching headlines and scandal heaped upon scandal. 

With his father’s empire growing exponentially in his native Australia, Murdoch expanded his operations to the UK in 1968, purchasing the News of the World, and the following year, The Sun which he successfully reconfigured into the tabloid format.

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