“There are some shows that you just know you’re never going to watch,” the youngest son of media mogul and Fox Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch told Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones on Wednesday, alluding to to the HBO series centered on a family-run media empire. (The sense is that he gets asked that question often.)
At Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, Murdoch gamely responded questions about his entertainment-viewing habits before more seriously discussing onstage his support of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the potential to succeed Disney CEO Bob Iger and issues such as climate change and income inequality.
When asked directly whether he watches right-leaning cable network Fox News, the youngest Murdoch replied, “Uh, no.” He later added that he was “disappointed” that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith had departed the network, and effectively attempted to distance himself from the influential cabler under his family’s control, pointing instead to his track record of news operations he has run, including Star in India and Sky News in the U.K. The media exec called opinion programming U.S. cable news not “terribly helpful,” but also pinned some of the blame on “crazily damaging” talk radio.
It’s no secret that Murdoch has donated to Buttigieg’s campaign, and touted Wednesday his and his wife’s enthusiasm for the Democrat’s “composure of character, thoughtfulness [and] courage.”
But he shunned adhering to any political affiliations. instead telling Jones that he tries “not to label it one way or the other.”
“But I think one thing I would say is that as we continue to make, as a society, bad decisions on a number if things – as we continue to not act aggressively on climate change, on providing appropriate and competitive healthcare to our people, to allow income inequality to balloon in a way that it has,” said Murdoch. “I would observe that the more you leave it unsolved, the most draconian a solution is going to have to be to get there.”
He said that maybe 20 years ago, a more laissez-faire approach might have worked, but today there is an “urgency to find solutions that requires strong leadership,” one that likely involves government spending and regulation “in a variety of sectors that haven’t been dealt with strategically or thoughtfully for a long time.”
New generational leadership was a recurring theme of Murdoch’s chat at the summit. Striking out on his own through his venture, investment vehicle Lupa Systems, Murdoch confirmed his minority stake in Vice Media, highlighting his belief in having a news outlet with high-quality storytelling that reaches younger audiences globally.
As for Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets, he noted that the deal “made too much sense to ignore.”
“Fundamentally, our view was that given where we were as a business, with very good growth in the domestic market here, really strong international base – this is 21st Century Fox – moving to the next level, moving to over the next 10-20 years would require some kind of activity,” said Murdoch. “We’d attempted to acquire Time Warner some years before. But the opportunity to merge the company and combine with Disney was, for shareholders… it made too much sense to ignore. So I think you have to take the ego out of it… If you take the ego out of it, you look at what’s going the be the best thing for these brands.”
Murdoch also noted that he “really wasn’t” interested in being a successor to the Disney throne currently occupied by Iger, taking himself out of any consideration for a role there soon after the deal was made public. The opportunity to “completely reset,” work for himself and redefine his set of interests and businesses, he said, was simply “too good an opportunity to pass up.”