It’s always been the plan for one or a few of Rupert Murdoch’s children to eventually take control of his vast News Corp. empire, the third largest media conglomerate in the world, which includes newspapers everywhere, 20th Century Fox, HarperCollins, Fox News, and so on. Today, Murdoch’s younger son, James, moved toward that destiny as he was named chief operating officer of News Corp., after having run the internal businesses as CEO in Europe and Asia. But where does that leave Fox News big money man Roger Ailes? The kids have never much liked him, and today, he’s probably pissed. The COO spot was previously held by Rupert’s older son, Lachlan, but he left the company in September 2005, likely with a little push from Ailes. The family’s beef with Ailes, chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, is long-standing and will likely be exacerbated by James’s move not only up the corporate ladder, but Stateside. More details and speculation inside Press Clips, our daily media column.
Daddy’s Boy: James Murdoch will move to New York, the company said in its release, complicating a bit of gossip we relayed yesterday from the New York Observer. A secretive LLC recently purchased the Muppet Mansion, a huge Manhattan townhouse once owned by Jim Henson, for $23 million and signing the deed was none other than Jesse Angelo, the editor-in-chief of News Corp.’s iPad newspaper The Daily. For Angelo, it seemed like a big jump, because his current home is valued at $1.9 million. But amid the James Murdoch news, things start to make a bit more sense: Maybe the Muppet Mansion is for the young Murdoch, Angelo’s close friend and Harvard roommate, Reuters media writer Felix Salmon surmises, and Angelo could have just signed for the deal under the News Corp.-housed LLC.
But back to business. We’ve wondered before about the disagreements between the Murdoch children and Ailes, perhaps News Corp.’s most successful and public manager. Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth was recently brought back into the company fold, but just a year prior, her husband spoke out in the New York Times against Ailes:
I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.
A News Corp. insider said back then that the kids were “working together as a group on a master plan,” and Rupert, who turned 80 this month, seems to be complicit in making it work. We wonder, then, just how long it will take the Murdoch youth to push out Ailes, an objective complicated by Ailes’s huge successes with Fox News.
A well-timed Times profile of James just last month called him:
…an aggressive, ambitious executive who has cemented his stellar reputation in the pay-television business in Asia and Europe, who at times has made assertive plays for expanding his power base within the company, who has nurtured a brand of conservative politics that often puts him at odds with the profit center that is Fox News, and who has shown an eagerness to play in the corridors of power in ways noisier than his father’s more subtle maneuverings.
As he moves up in the company, not to mention moves in locally, his personal distaste for the Ailes and Fox News way becomes more and more relevant, despite Ailes profit margins. Murdoch, who proudly loses money on things he believes in (see: New York Post, Wall Street Journal and a $30 million investment in The Daily) need cash cows like his movie studios and top TV channel, and has likely been able to temper his children’s whims while he’s still been in charge. But with James ascending, it’s clear that the king won’t be around forever. And therefore neither, most likely, will Roger Ailes.