Rupert Murdoch has always known that people love gossip about the doings of the high and mighty. That’s why I am sure he is not a bit surprised about the coverage his family matters have received over the last few days. Besides, as we keep pointing out, the media love nothing better than stories somehow related to the media. Now with headlines in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily News, and a spread in Newsweek, plus reports in much of the British and Australian press–and, of course, Drudge Report links–we all know a bit more about the intrigues a-brewing inside the worldwide Empire of Murdoch.
The dynastic drama began last week with the sudden announcement that Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s tattooed, motorcycle-riding, Hotspur-like son, whom his father had proclaimed was “first among equals,” was abruptly departing the family firm. That, according to the official announcement, “deeply saddened” his shaken father, who at 74 is not bit like Lear and is determined to remain totally in control in his kingdom.
Lachlan’s problem, it seems, had been that his authoritarian micro-manager of a dad had been undercutting him. Lachlan was, presumably in charge of the Fox TV stations but his father had been going behind his back to consult with the TV station’s president. Murdoch, it has been reported, recently dressed down his eldest son at a few stormy staff meetings. So Lachlan is going back to Australia, the Murdoch home turf, with his supermodel wife and baby and has told friends he just wants to lie on the beach for a while.
Frankly, there is something both Shakespearian and soap opera-ish about this family drama. (Murdoch’s second son, James, a Harvard dropout who lives in London, has now been assigned the part of Prince Hal.) But what is even dishier than the corporate conflicts and the question of who eventually will run the News Corp media empire is the role Murdoch’s young third wife–the six-foot-tall, Yale-educated Wendi Deng–may be playing in the family saga.
Once upon a time the third Mrs. Murdoch was a staffer at the Hong Kong television station owned by Murdoch when she managed to catch her future husband’s eye. He was then married to his second wife, Anna, the mother of three of his children including Lachlan. Years ago the Wall Street Journal, wrote a long gossipy story detailing the very clever Miss Deng’s background and the methods she used to get ahead. It was a rare time the Journal got so down and dirty and, I remember, a lot of people thought it was inappropriate for the WSJ to let their inner Page Six out in this way.
Murdoch and Anna, a former Australian newspaper reporter, were married for 32 years. In 1988 she, being extremely prescient, wrote a novel called Family Business about a media dynasty torn apart by the battle between four siblings for control after the father dies leaving no successor. Clearly she had this in mind when she made her divorce settlement, which assures that her children would be in control of the family trust after Rupert’s death.
By the way, Murdoch and Wendi Deng, who is 37 years younger than the media tycoon, married on a yacht in New York harbor just a few weeks after his divorce from Anna became final. Murdoch, who has battled prostate cancer, now has two young daughters with Wendi, further proof of what a remarkable man he is. It is his desire to assure that these toddlers share equally in his fortune that seems to be a part of the reason for the current conflict between him and Lachlan.
As part of her divorce settlement, it was agreed that Anna Murdoch’s children as well as a daughter from his first marriage could, along with Murdoch, appoint the directors who control the trust that holds much of the family’s assets. At Murdoch’s death these four were to gain total control. But now, Murdoch and his new wife want their daughters also to be able to appoint directors.
According to the Daily Telegraph in London, Murdoch is now using all his great negotiating skills “to keep the lid on” a potential quarrel between Wendi and Anna’s children. One can only imagine the backstage machinations that may be going on and assumes that the three-act drama will not end here.
Undoubtedly, Rupert Murdoch is the greatest media visionary of our time. Surely he knows that the public, which buys his papers and watches his television shows, simply loves stories about the problems of the rich and famous. We follow their generational conflicts and understand their feelings of jealousy, their ambition, their greed, their desire for revenge. But it is not because the mighty are so very different from us. We understand because we are all so very much the same.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.