Rupert Murdoch’s Grip on His Empire Is Tightening, Reports Say

January 15, 2016, 12:13 AM UTC
Photograph by Drew Angerer — Getty Images

Getting married to former supermodel Jerry Hall isn’t the only thing that has been keeping Rupert Murdoch busy, apparently. According to a recent report in New York magazine, the billionaire has also been tightening his grip on his media and entertainment empire—to the point where he may be squeezing out his long-time lieutenant Roger Ailes.

If the reports are true, that is. This isn’t just the usual palace intrigue or Kremlinology, although there is a little of that whenever the Murdochs are involved. Ailes isn’t just some puppet to be swapped out for some other Murdoch drone—as the head of Fox News, he has been the architect of much of the company’s media strategy for the better part of 20 years.

If Ailes is being sidelined, that’s potentially a big deal for the future of both Fox News and 21st Century Fox (FOX), since the news network, a favorite of politically conservative viewers, accounts for a big chunk of the company’s profits. That part of Murdoch’s holdings—which split in two in 2013, with the newspapers staying in News Corp., and the rest renamed 21st Century Fox—is worth about $50 billion.

According to New York, several unnamed sources inside News Corp. say Murdoch has been taking Ailes’ place at senior-level strategy meetings for the news channel for the past six months.

“The most visible change is that, since June, Murdoch has been attending Ailes’s daily executive meeting held on the second floor of Fox headquarters. The secretive afternoon gathering in Ailes’s conference room is attended by about a half-dozen of the network’s most senior lieutenants,” Gabriel Sherman reports. (A spokesperson for 21st Century Fox declined to comment to Sherman.)

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Rumors about Ailes and his future place in the Murdoch firmament have been swirling ever since the media mogul elevated his two sons, Lachlan and James, to senior positions inside the business. (Lachlan is executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox along with his father, while James is CEO.)

At the time, there were rumors that Ailes was offended by having to answer to the younger Murdochs, and he put out a statement saying he would continue to report to Rupert. However, that was quickly followed by a later statement that he would report to both Rupert and the younger Murdochs, which didn’t really seem to clarify much at all.

Some Fox watchers said recently that Ailes had smoothed things over with Rupert, and that his position within 21st Century Fox remained solid. (A recent Murdoch tweet visibly throws support behind Ailes.) The New York report suggests otherwise. Whatever the case, if there is a change coming at the top of Fox News, it could have far-reaching implications for the parent company, too.

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