James Murdoch’s resignation from the board of News Corp confirms divisive splits in the publishing arm of his family’s media empire and removes a powerful dissenting voice against the rightwing slant of the group, according to insiders.
The move marks the full departure of Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son from News Corp and it is likely to boost the influence of his brother, Lachlan, who is seen as being far more sympathetic to rightwing causes.
“My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions,” James said in his resignation letter.
In a statement, Rupert, chairman of Fox and News Corp’s executive chairman, and Lachlan, chief executive and executive chairman of Fox and co-chairman of News Corp’s board, expressed gratitude for James’ “many years of service to the company. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”
The News Corp board will be reduced to 10 seats from 11. The company gave no indication it would look for another board member.
While the move was reported as likely to be based on 47-year-old James’ disagreement over the company’s skeptical reporting of the climate change crisis, some observers believe it was more likely to have come from the 89-year-old patriarch, who continues to maintain an iron grip despite a presentational handover of power to his sons.
“It’s always been controlled by Rupert and only Rupert,” one said.
James Murdoch has had little to do with News Corp’s publishing arm since 2013, when it was split off from what were then profitable family-owned TV and film holdings.
His departure from the board is therefore largely ceremonial. “The resignation note is just to show the world and his friends he doesn’t believe in it. It’s meaningless in a sense. It’s to show I’m a good guy,” said the source.
In 2007, the elder Murdoch appeared to confirm that he was supportive of his son’s commitment to the climate crisis issue and pledged to move the companies toward carbon-neutrality.
“I was probably a bit more skeptical than my son James, who’s a complete convert, and who converted me,” Murdoch said.
“I don’t think there’s any question of my conviction on this issue – I’ve come to feel it very strongly,” he continued.
But James Murdoch’s full support for environmental causes has only in recent months become fully understood. He and his wife, Kathryn, a former employee at the Clinton Climate Change initiative, have donated to US organizations targeting climate change and electoral interference as well as the presidential campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden.
Earlier this year, James issued a rebuke of his family’s media empire and its promotion of climate-change skeptics during Australia’s bushfire inferno, which devastated thousands of square miles and killed or displaced as many as 3 billion animals.
“Kathryn and James’ views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known,” a spokesperson for the couple said at the time.
But it is not just the climate crisis that has made James stand out. After condemningcomments made by Donald Trump following a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, James pledged a $1m donation to the Anti-Defamation League.
In March, James, who received about $2bn from the sale of Fox’s movie and TV divisions to Disney, was reported to have taken a stake in an anti-fake news startup, Betaworks, aimed at fighting disinformation and creating a “more sustainable news ecosystem”.
The divisions apparent within the Murdoch family have also presented themselves within News Corp’s operations as America has grappled with the scandals of the Trump presidency, the coronavirus pandemic and the social upheavals of the #MeToo era and Black Lives Matter protests.
Last month, 280 members of staff at Dow Jones, the Murdoch company that publishes the Wall Street Journal, sent a letter to the paper’s new publisher, calling for a clearer differentiation between news and opinion content online and citing concerns over the accuracy and transparency of the paper’s notoriously reactionary editorial content.
“Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources,” they wrote, pointing to an essay by Mike Pence about coronavirus infections.
A similar controversy erupted with Fox News after the cable channel showed a graphic that connected the killings of Black men – including George Floyd and Martin Luther King Jr – to stock market gains.
Fox News executives apologized, saying the graphic “should have never aired on television without full context”.
Later in July, Blake Neff, a senior writer for Tucker Carlson’s show, was fired for posting racist comments on an online forum. Carlson said Neff’s comments were “wrong” but that he paid a “very heavy price”, before turning to a critique of “cancel culture” and “ghouls now beating their chests in triumph at the destruction of a young man”.
Carlson, whose racist and anti-immigrant statements haver caused repeated outrage, has had the solid backing of Lachlan. Last year the New York Times magazine reported that Lachlan had repeatedly texted messages of support to Carlson amid scandals. The Daily Beast reported that Lachlan – and his father – both signed off on Carlson’s defensive and barely apologetic reaction to the Neff scandal.