21 July 2016
by Aaron Patrick

Rupert Murdoch is losing control of his media empire

A cardinal is going. The end of the pope's reign is in sight.

The still-being-negotiated departure from Fox News of Republican Party puppet master Roger Ailes marks a historic power shift at 21st Century Fox.

Ailes was perhaps the most potent asset in the company other than Rupert Murdoch himself, the founder and executive chairman. Murdoch harnessed Ailes' talent into a giant money-making and political-power-generating machine.

The men weren't just work colleagues – they were ideological allies. Formed in the same conservative male-dominated media and political culture, their values defined the news operations of 21st Century Fox, the most powerful cable news channel in the world.

Now Ailes is going, felled by an allegation that has regretfully became mundane around certain types of men – demanding sex for employment – it might have struggled to make the front page of the now-defunct News of the World.

The departure of such a powerful figure, confirmed no less by Murdoch's The Wall Street Journal, suggests the Murdoch sons are forcing the company to face modern social mores and asserting their power over the company where their 85-year-old dad has for decades been the driving force.

(The recent federal election was another example of Murdoch's fading influence. Despite the News Corp press solidly behind the Coalition, Labor almost won.)

When James Murdoch was made chief executive and Lachlan co-executive chairman of 21st Century Fox with his father last year, Ailes publicly declared he would still report directly to Rupert Murdoch. After some back and forth, Ailes signed up for a three-year contract that had him report to all three Murdochs, making him the only 21st Century Fox executive with a direct line to the founder.

Lachlan's departure from News Corp 10 years ago was widely reported to be driven by the loss of a power struggle with Ailes, who has gleefully racked up enemies in the media for decades.

When a Wall Street Journal media reporter Julia Angwin interviewed Ailes once, he found out where she lived, that she'd just had a baby, the baby's name and other personal information. He had her photographed by security in the lift lobby and later leaked the photo to a newspaper with a story criticising her, according to a person familiar with the event. This was before News Corp had bought the paper.

Still, Ailes' fall was not inevitable. When news of the allegations against Ailes broke, Rupert Murdoch reportedly called Ailes from a media moguls conference in Sun Valley to offer his support.

Veteran Murdoch watcher Michael Wolff mocked New York Times' attacks on Ailes. "The larger question on trial in the media involves the culture of Fox News and whether or not it is a throwback, retro, sexist place," he wrote. "To which, the rejoinder must be, 'Is the pope Catholic?' "

Now that James and Lachlan are stepping up, shareholders may be asking: when are they going to replace the pope?