How an empire ends: the death throes of the Murdoch dynasty

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation, USA and Co-Chair, Annual Meeting 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite Michael Wolff’s attempt to portray Murdoch’s empire as healthy and vibrant[1], he has failed. He papers over the empire’s flaws. Instead, the empire has a structural weakness: Rupert Murdoch. The phone hacking scandal forced him to split his empire.[2] On the surface, the split improved both companies and increased profits. However, it masks, a deeper problem as it requires Rupert to straddle two empires: entertainment and news. He connects the two by the loyalties he has earned, the debts he is owed and the vulnerabilities he knows. His traffics in information, the arcana imperii the secret information, that people uses to control power[3] has made him powerful.

The two towers: Entertainment and News

The 21st Century Fox Company is the wealthy respectable entertainment empire. The company generates a vast income and provides access to the American market. The business sells entertainment and tabloid television journalism, Fox News, as an alternative to the mainstream media. As an entertainment and media business, it exists in two of the most vicious and competitive markets Los Angeles and New York. Executives who succeed in these markets have a thirst for power and profit that neither morality, decency nor honour can control.[4] Their skills are why Murdoch control is less than of his other empire, the newspaper business.

Reporters as spies and scouts to feed an intelligence machine

The newspaper business, the source of Murdoch’s wealth and power, is his other empire. This empire acts as his intelligence agency, which provides political influence. He uses it to punish his enemies, help his allies and promote his interests. He deploys his editors and reporters like spies and scouts to uncover tacenda. Tacenda are things not to be mentioned or made public—things better left unsaid; “unspoken, silent” or “implied, inferred.”[5] All of these cater to the popular mind, as they want to know or at least believe that they have been given a glimpse of the arcana imperii. His skill at revealing the tacenda and catering to the popular opinion has sustained his empire for 60 years.

An empire divided cannot stand.

Murdoch holds the two empires together but each has its own logic. He alone has mastery of their arcana imperii. The loyalties he has created are personal not institutional. Neither his sons nor his daughters have the experience, or skills, to manage them. No matter how well he might explain them to his children, they will never know them. They might manage one or the other, but two is too much.

The children do not understand the hunger and discipline that drives their father.

Once Rupert departs the demand for profits and status will divide his empire. The Fox Empire’s allure will cause the children to forget the Newspaper Empire. The Newspaper Empire, though, only works from Rupert’s ability to wield the political influence it provides. A politician is less likely to fear or entertain his sons as they would Rupert. Moreover, the competition between the two empires can only be resolved by one mind not by two that compete. Rupert’s restructuring has ensured Murdochs are in charge yet it made his empire vulnerable to their rivalry and dependent on courtiers and challengers like Ailes and Brooks.




[4] A case in point is Roger Ailes and the price he has paid to succeed. and   The executives in Hollywood are similarly skilled as they are adept at showing how a film can gross hundreds of millions of dollars and never earn a penny profit.

[5]Tacenda means Tacenda are things not to be mentioned or made public—things better left unsaid; tacit means “unspoken, silent” or “implied, inferred.” (accessed 7 April 2015)


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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