James Murdoch resigned Friday from the board of directors of News Corp., the publishing arm of his family’s media empire, in a very public sign of dissent that typically plays out behind closed doors.
The rupture capped a period of intensifying criticism of the coverage and views offered by the news empire created by his father Rupert Murdoch. Those include News Corp.’s publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post and a sister Murdoch company, the Fox News Channel.
Such criticism has come from outside observers, current news staffers for the Journal and Fox, and James himself.
On Friday, he released a terse letter to the board signaling a broad philosophical clash with his father and older brother though he did not divulge details.
“My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions,” the younger Murdoch said.
News Corp. also owns major newspapers in the U.K. and Australia as well as the book publisher HarperCollins.
James earlier served as a top News Corp. executive in the U.S., the U.K. and Asia; he more recently rose to be co-CEO of the broadcasting arm of the family’s holdings, now called Fox Corp., which owns Fox News. (Both corporations are publicly traded but effectively controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his children.)
The elder Murdoch, Rupert, had set his sons against one another in a pitched battle over his succession — the inspiration for the cult hit HBO series, Succession. Lachlan, the older son, is a bit warmer, a bit less cerebral, and, like Rupert a lot more conservative than James. He prevailed. James left Fox Corp. after most of the family’s entertainment holdings were sold to the Walt Disney Co.
James holds more liberal views on politics and climate change than either his father or his elder brother, Lachlan, who leads the company. James and his wife Kathryn have given generously to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and other Democrats. They have also contributed significant sums to environmental initiatives.
For years, James Murdoch has chafed at the more conservative views that find a home in the Journal‘s opinion pages, the Post and on the shows and news coverage offered by Fox News, also controlled by the Murdochs.
More recently, leading Fox personalities and the Journal editorial pages have been accused of harboring racist rhetoric during widespread public debate over racial justice. They have also been accused of discrediting credible scientific research and public health officials during a public health emergencies. Some of that criticism has emanated from the Journal‘s own newsroom.
The paper reassigned the column of a former editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, from the news pages to the opinion side after journalists there faulted a column involving race and said he was violating the newsroom’s policies for social media.
Similarly, a News Corp. employee in Australia was among those who accused the company of a “misinformation campaign” because its news outlets did not link devastating wildfires there to climate change. James and Kathryn Murdoch weighed in then, too, through a spokesperson. “They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary,” the spokesperson told the Daily Beast.
On Friday evening, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch issued their own statement: “We’re grateful to James for his many years of service to the company. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”