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Rupert Murdoch, media magnate and Fox News founder, steps down

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The end of an era in the media world - at 92 years old, Rupert Murdoch is stepping away from his media empire, which includes Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and many others, and not only in this country, but also Britain and Australia. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has written a book on Murdoch and joins me with details. Howdy, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So Rupert Murdoch is 92 years old, which may partially answer my first question, but why is he stepping down now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he says that it's time for him to think of other things. He said he'll still be engaged with the contest of ideas in the news business and that people - he basically told his employees, I think only half jokingly, they shouldn't expect to step away early for the weekends - that he'll be showing up in their newsrooms around the globe late on Friday afternoons. This is, I think, a concession to time. I think it looks like an endeavor to help set up his elder son, Lachlan Murdoch, on his own to perhaps lead the family holdings into the future. And also, you know, Rupert played such a role in this season of crisis and scandal that they are only somewhat emerging from. You know, it may be best for him to edge away from the spotlight.

KELLY: Speak more on that season of crisis and scandal. Is he stepping away under a cloud?

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, well, there are two elements. He's absolutely - you know, this has been just a time of such crisis because of what Fox News did in the wake of the 2020 elections. He and other top figures at Fox knowingly allowed stars to embrace false claims of fraud that somehow cheated then-President Donald Trump of the 2020 elections - as I say, absolutely baseless - but did so to allow them to chase after Trump's most core voters, who were Fox's most core viewers who had been alienated by Fox's reporting on election night that night, showing Joe Biden to have the advantage in some ways.

And therefore, you know, he essentially put on the farthest back burner the idea of fact and reporting being preeminent in what he did. And he was a part of that. The evidence showed that. He testified to that effect. But I think there's also the broader question of, you know, the legacy he leaves both as a builder of this enormous media outfit and of creating a sort of punishing and pugilistic right-wing populism that ultimately was corrosive for the civil societies in which they operated.

KELLY: And that is the legacy that, in your view, he's going to leave on the media landscape?

FOLKENFLIK: It's a twin legacy. I mean, think of what he built from a single newspaper granted him by his father in a bequest when Murdoch was in his 20s, you know, in Adelaide, on the - a city on the southern coast of Australia, and built it into this global empire that not only was so dominant in these three big English-speaking countries, but had, you know, major footprints in Asia, in South - Latin America, even stakes in the Middle East. You know, this was a truly global enterprise. And he had prime ministers and presidents seeking his input and his influence. But it was a corrupting influence that he had. And he ultimately not only was able to have a stake over the Republican Party, but found that its voters were pulling him in a corrosive direction.

KELLY: So next up, Lachlan Murdoch. He's going to be taking over in full. What's your sense of what kind of leader he will be?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I don't think he's going to do massive changes. I think his aspirations have been built around this day, getting full control. But I think, you know, Murdoch is still atop the family trust. And I think the real question is, what happens a year or two down the line? Will he still be able to control it? Will his family members have the trust for him to lead, as his father had done in such a vital way for so many decades?

KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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