Rupert Murdoch on his divorce, succession, and his empire’s future
FORTUNE — “I had a very bad month in January and February. I had a fall in San Francisco. I fell on my head,” says Rupert Murdoch in an exclusive interview with Fortune Magazine that covers the gamut of the media titan’s latest challenges.
In the Q&A, released today and featured in Fortune’s April 28 issue, Murdoch talks about splitting his global media conglomerate into two public companies, struggling to repair frayed relationships with his grown children, luring eldest son Lachlan back into the business, and enduring a high-profile divorce from Wendi Deng, after a 14-year marriage.
And even as he’s coped with legal woes related to the phone-hacking scandal in his British newspaper business, Murdoch, who turned 83 in March, comes across as vigorous, candid about his troubles — and ever opinionated about a broad array of topics from Facebook to Michael Bloomberg to the 2016 Presidential race.
Fortune senior editor at large Pattie Sellers talked with Murdoch in his News Corp. office in Manhattan in late March. Some highlights of the interview:
Murdoch reveals how he coaxed son Lachlan, who left News Corp. in 2005 over tensions with senior management, to return as non-executive chairman of both News Corp. and 21st Century Fox , which holds the TV and movie assets that separated from the core newspaper operations last summer. Over a meal at the Allen & Co. conference last July in Sun Valley, Idaho, “Lachlan and [younger son] James and I had a very serious talk about how we can work as a team,” Murdoch says. “We had two or three hours together. Lachlan was not not going to come back. It was a question of how we would work together?” Murdoch also talks about easing tensions with his daughter Elisabeth and his hopes for her to play a major role inside his companies, which have a combined stock-market value of more than $80 billion. Murdoch owns almost 40%, controls the voting stock, and calls the shots.
About adapting his newspapers to the digital age, Murdoch says that the New York Post, his money-losing daily tabloid, may exist only in digital form in 10 years. He expects the Wall Street Journal, which he bought as part of Dow Jones in 2007, to remain in print form longer.
While he’s struggled to build data services beyond Dow Jones’ Factiva, Murdoch greatly admires Bloomberg – both ex-New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and the multi-billion business he created. “Mike’s got a virtual monopoly there,” says Murdoch. “It’s a very small market, a very elite market. I remember when he rang me one day to complain about some criticism in the Post. I said, ‘I’ve just read Bloomberg View, and it absolutely lacerated me.’ He said, ‘Oh, nobody reads that.’
Murdoch explains why he’s betting big on TV sports, with the new Fox Sports 1 cable network: ESPN is “a goldmine. It’s an even bigger goldmine than Fox News.” Not that Murdoch frets about Fox News: “No cable company in the world is going to drop it unless they want their houses burnt down,” he says, Asked if Fox News’ sometimes extreme right-wing views may have denigrated the U.S. political process and even hurt the Republican party, he replies, “I think it has absolutely saved it.”
The 2016 Presidential election, Murdoch believes, “is between four or five people.” He ranks Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan at the top of his list. Ryan, the conservative Congressman from Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee, “is the straightest arrow I’ve ever met,” he says.
Murdoch talks about trying to woo DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider to 20th Century Fox, the film studio’s plans for two (yes, two!) sequels to Avatar, and perhaps his greatest disappointment in almost 60 years of global empire-building: MySpace, which he bought in 2005 for $580 million, failed vs. Facebook. “It think it was one of our great screw-ups of all time,” Murdoch says.
And on the personal front, Murdoch opens up for the first time publicly about his divorce, how he felt when he read Wendi Deng’s alleged diary entries about other men (“I was shocked”) and how he is now moving into “a new chapter.” He talks about the 13-acre vineyard that he recently bought in California and his new 10,000-square-foot Manhattan apartment that came with a price tag only a billionaire can love: $57.25 million.
Click here for the full Fortune Q&A with Murdoch — or read the new issue of Fortune, which has the full Q&A and my colleague Beth Kowitt’s terrific cover cover story about Whole Foods . Buy the magazine. Keep print journalism alive!