As the scandal over Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids continues to unravel the News Corp empire, much speculation has arisen as to how the affair will impact Murdoch’s American enterprises, particularly Fox News.
The latest bombshell is that Murdoch has dropped his bid to acquire the portion of the British satellite network BSkyB that he does not already own. That retreat came after it became clear that critics from across the political spectrum were about call for such an action in a rare show of non-partisan unity. Abandoning BSkyB is major defeat for both Rupert and his son, James.
Amongst the potential scenarios for the future of News Corp is one that includes neither Rupert, nor James, leading the company. Rupert is already tainted goods, and James is going to have to explain how the News of the World affair occurred on his watch without his knowing, even though he personally signed checks to payoff victims.
All of this must have Roger Ailes squirming in his lair. Rupert is, far and away, his most ardent supporter. James is said to be appreciative of Ailes ability to produce profit, but their personal relationship is described as cordial at best. What happens if they should depart?
The next Murdoch in line could be Rupert’s daughter, Elisabeth. Prior to this year she was not affiliated with News Corp, but then daddy bought her production company, Shine, and she came along with. Back in the fold, she now has more influence over corporate affairs.
The problem for Ailes is that Elisabeth is not an admirer of Ailes or his politics. She held a fundraiser for Barack Obama when he was a candidate for president in 2008. Her husband, Matthew Freud, told a reporter that…
“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.”
Of course now we know that the journalistic standards that News Corp are not particularly high.
Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s oldest son, left the company years ago in part because of conflicts with Ailes. Prior to his departure he was the expected heir to the empire. While he no longer has an executive role, Lachlan, like all the Rupert spawn, shares in the ownership of the business. With Papa out of the way, his voice will surely be more prominent.
Ailes doesn’t help his own cause either. Just this year he has been involved in incidents that cast his reputation into doubt. Last April he was caught spying on employees of a small-town newspaper he owns in New York. And he used News Corp security to conduct the operations. In February Ailes was implicated in a scheme to deceive federal investigators who were vetting Bernie Kerik’s bid to become the director of Homeland Security. Judith Regan accused Ailes of instructing her to lie to the feds in order to protect Ailes’ pal Rudy Giuliani who was running for president at the time.
As the pillars of News Corp’s ivory tower weaken and crumble, Ailes is going to find himself increasingly beset by rivals and adversaries from within his own ranks. It’s hard to see how he can survive if the current Murdoch hierarchy is deposed. And considering his age and his wealth he may just find it more convenient to retire so that he can spend more time spying on his employees and propping up his dishonest political buddies.