By speaking out against News Corp and therefore his father, James underscored his gradual dislocation from the family business and therefore the family.
It has been a psychodrama that began with the phone hacking scandal, when his elder brother Lachlan returned to his father’s side after a stint as an independent and not entirely successful media investor in Australia. James’s friends argue he was meanwhile “thrown under the bus” to protect Rupert and News Corp from the worst of the ensuing crisis.
James was nevertheless restored to a top job alongside Lachlan at 21st Century Fox, a new company spun out of News Corp under pressure from investors who wanted little to do with the tainted and struggling newspaper business. It suited him, too, as he had always been more interested in the technocratic and lucrative business of entertainment.
Yet, it became clear phone hacking meant James had lost the battle for succession and when the opportunity to sell arrived, he encouraged his father to seize the deal against Lachlan’s wishes. The $71bn sale set the brothers on the road to their final split.
James stepped down from what remained of Fox, mostly American sports channels and Fox News, the bombastic cable news channel that is the main vector of Murdoch influence on the US. Its support for Donald Trump and promotion of climate change denial were more easily ignored by James when he had a Hollywood studio and international pay-TV businesses to run.
With the sun tipping over the horizon for Rupert, interest in the Murdochs has become global entertainment.
Viewers of HBO’s brilliant fiction Succession and the BBC’s disappointingly shallow documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty will know there is always more than meets the eye to dynastic moves.