The Fall by Michael Wolff: a dull portrait of Murdoch – review

The Fall by Michael Wolff: a dull portrait of Murdoch – review

by Suswati Basu
1 comment

In “The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire,” Michael Wolff paints a ‘sympathetic’ figure of the ruthless media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, even though he doesn’t really deserve it. Murdoch is portrayed as a frail patriarch, being manipulated by his children in a bid for approval. At the same time, the Fox News Corporation owner is seen as an unfortunate liberal caught in the crossfire of a Donald Trump presidency. Personal politics aside, the book appears more like a homage to the nonagenarian, rather than showcasing the major problems caused by the family such as the Dominion voting issues and phone hacking scandals.

Rating: 2 out of 5.
The Fall The End of the Murdoch Empire by Michael Wolff in front of Kira Cochrane and Eleanor Mills' Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs and Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy
“The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire” by Michael Wolff in front of Kira Cochrane and Eleanor Mills’ Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs and Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy. Credit: Suswati Basu.

While Wolff’s descriptions are not gushing about the outgoing Fox Corporation and News Corp chairman as such, he certainly depicts him as confused and rather pathetic. Murdoch only just stepped down from his role days before the release of the book on September 21st, hence there was speculation about potential explosive revelations in the book. Unfortunately, the real-life “Succession” story was tepid at best, lacklustre at worst, and we’re none the wiser about the enigmatic family.

In an interview with Variety, Wolff claimed his book may have played a role in Murdoch’s announcement. “Inside, they’ve been seeing the book as a bus aimed directly at him, and in order to avoid a direct hit, they acted first,” Wolff said. “I think that that is partly true. The book is pretty rough on the nature of what it’s like when a 92-year-old runs two public companies.”

Murdoch’s struggles with family dynamics

What Wolff believes is that Trump was the straw that broke the camel’s back with Fox News, as it no longer geared towards the Australian entrepreneur’s more ‘liberal’ ideologies. The TV audience, that was completely different from the days of him being a newspaper editor, had a mind of its own, and it was the first instances of the industry in general going in to transition period. The key players in this saga, however, are the Murdoch children and would-be successors, as well as the Fox News apparatus including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Roger Ailes and the spectre of the 45th President.

By showcasing Murdoch’s hatred towards Trump and putting the blame squarely on the more extremist elements of his company such as Hannity, Wolff characterises the paterfamilias as losing control of his own network and even his own family situation. Wolff said: “Murdoch was as passionate in his Trump revulsion as any helpless liberal. He quite appeared to embody the rage so many people had for a modern politics that appeared to be absurd, illogical, and beyond their control.”

Read: Michael Wolff predicts ‘The Fall’ of Fox News in new book

Meanwhile for the past three decades, Murdoch’s life had been defined by his relentless pursuit of his children’s approval. He had apparently invested genuine effort in this endeavour, when he wasn’t off pursuing his many love interests. Lachlan Murdoch, in particular, had gone to great lengths to reassure his father that the strained relationship wasn’t solely a consequence of Fox News and political divisions. According to Lachlan, these issues were merely a facade, masking deeper family dynamics that weren’t all that uncommon.

“The theoretical golden years of Murdoch’s life, thirty years now, had been so much about winning the approval of his children.”

Michael Wolff, “The Fall

However, the uniqueness of their situation couldn’t be denied, as Fox News had unquestionably played a pivotal role in shaping American history over the past generation. For his youngest daughters Grace and Chloe, the author explains that it had cast a shadow over their entire upbringing, including their experiences at politically polarised institutions like Yale and Stanford. These elite universities, known for their left-leaning tendencies, had witnessed the nation’s divide and the unexpected rise of Trump, with Fox News at the epicentre.

Fox News and the Trump presidency

In response to his children’s concerns and observations, Murdoch found himself mostly attributing blame to Trump and Roger Ailes, the man he had ultimately ousted from Fox News. Wolff says his words were often mumbled and indecipherable, reflecting his complicated feelings about the matter.

And there’s no doubt that there are parallels between the TV series “Succession” and the real life dynamics. A quick reminder of the show since it ended earlier this year. The drama delves into the power struggle within a global media empire, akin to News Corp. Both families, formidable media dynasties, exert substantial influence: the Roys preside over Waystar RoyCo, a vast media and entertainment conglomerate, while the Murdochs control News Corp, encompassing Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and HarperCollins.

Echoing each other, the patriarchs, Logan Roy and Murdoch, are cold-blooded titans, resolute in preserving their dominion. Heirs in both clans vie aggressively for control, fostering a cutthroat environment. Dysfunction prevails, with secrets and conflicting interests. Specific parallels emerge, such as Kendall Roy resembling James Murdoch, once the presumed heir to News Corp.

Murdoch family tree as mentioned in The Fall by Michael Wolff
Rupert Murdoch is portrayed by Michael Wolff in “The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty

“Succession” offered us an insightful fictional lens into the Murdoch narrative, portraying a captivating world of wealth and power. Wolff leans into this comparison saying: “With reality imitating art that had imitated reality the show now seemed to have become an empowering agent for helping the otherwise uptight Murdochs to fully express, en famille, their full enmity and bitterness (with suspicions that one or more members of the family might be leaking family details to the show).”

Read: Doppelganger by Naomi Klein rethinks self amid mirrored reality – review

The journalist eludes to Murdoch’s real-life issues when it comes to finding a successor, because the “wrinkle was that the father could not unilaterally choose a son, or for that matter anyone, to be his successor.” Ultimately it would depend on a fiduciary vote between the siblings. What it suggests is that he pitted the children against each other in a Hunger Games style battle (obviously, not to that extreme!) in order to see who would be the victor and worthy of his corporations. Moreover, who will be able to talk the helm of Fox News and make it successful again as it continues to hang around their neck like an albatross, haemorrhaging money and popularity.

“The wrinkle was that the father could not unilaterally choose a son, or for that matter anyone, to be his successor. He had no power here. That decision—the course of the future—would be up to a vote of four.”

Michael Wolff, “The Fall

Limited revelations and the future of Murdoch’s empire

The book adeptly highlights the profound influence of Murdoch’s relationships, notably his former wives Jerry Hall, Wendi Deng, Anna Murdoch Mann, and Patricia Booker. It also sheds light on his current fragile connection with former model Ann Lesley Smith, an engagement he abruptly terminated just 48 hours after its announcement. Regrettably, the narrative fails to unveil fresh insights, offering little that we didn’t already comprehend regarding the Fox News identity crisis.

In sum, Michael Wolff’s latest book falls short of the heightened anticipation, leaving us wanting the tantalising revelations we had anticipated. Instead, it unveils a portrait of an aging tycoon relinquishing control over his empire and dynasty, as Fox News grapples with the challenges of a new era dominated by right-wing supremacism.

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Best books in September 2023: recommendations - How To Be Books October 2, 2023 - 11:58 am

[…] 📚 The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty by Michael Wolff (2023). An insider’s account of the decline and fall of Fox News and the Murdoch media empire, rife with intrigue, betrayal, and family drama. It goes without saying that we did a deep dive of Michael Wolff’s new book on the Murdochs and came up with little. […]


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