The Dark Side Of The Murdoch Family

The following article includes references to sexual abuse allegations.

Rupert Murdoch's childhood was anything but affluent. Right before his father died in 1952, he purchased a small newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, which Murdoch took over in his early twenties. Over time, Murdoch became a successful publisher in his home country, expanding his businesses to include the music and television industries. Asked about the weight of his massive influence in different Australian states then, Murdoch told ABC News in 1967, "Of course, one enjoys the feeling of power. ... We have more responsibility than power, I think. The newspaper can create great controversies, stir up argument within the community discussion, can throw light on injustices, just as it can do the opposite."

Murdoch, who had journalistic roots as the editor of the Daily Express, was afforded more power and responsibility when he expanded his territory to the United Kingdom with the purchase of News of the World and later, The Sun. In 1973, he acquired his first United States newspaper: The San Antonio Express. Murdoch certified his footing as an oligarch by buying, running, and selling more publications until he'd eventually hang his boots as the chairman of News Corp. and the Fox Corporation. 

In his quest to tell the news, he, too, became the news. While the Murdoch family name is tied to opulence at its best, there are lows that come with it. From high profile scandals that cost the family millions, to allegations of disloyalty, to health scares that are entirely out of their control, here's the dark side of the Murdoch family.

Rupert Murdoch allegedly 'pitted his kids against each other' over his succession

For years, a long-running debate was centered around who would take over the management of Rupert Murdoch's empire. According to Vanity Fair, the media magnate's children from his second marriage to Anna dePeyster — James Murdoch, Elisabeth Murdoch, and Lachlan Murdoch — were his top choice. An unnamed source who's acquainted with the family told the publication that Rupert would stir up the road to his succession in his own way. "He pitted his kids against each other their entire lives. It's sad," the little birdie claimed. 

Not that Rupert's children weren't strong on their own. In 2011, News Corp. purchased Elisabeth's London-based production company Shine Group for a reported $674 million in stock. For a while, it seemed like James would be Rupert's ideal replacement when Lachlan moved to Australia in 2005, but that changed when the latter returned 10 years later.

In September 2023, Rupert finally named Lachlan as his successor. "For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change," he wrote in a letter to the press, per USA Today, adding that the time had come for him to pursue other roles. "Neither excessive pride nor false humility are admirable qualities," Rupert continued, "But I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me."

A phone-hacking scandal humbled the tycoon

Rupert Murdoch may have been over the moon when he acquired News of the World, a top tabloid in the United Kingdom that had run for more than a century, but its years-long run ended with him as its owner. News of the World's ethical practices came under fire in November 2005 when it published an article about Prince William's knee injury and later his interaction with ITV's ex-royal correspondent Tom Bradby over broadcasting equipment. Since the prince's life happenings were only known to a small circle, Journalist Clive Goodman, who was News of the World's royal editor, was handed a four-month jail sentence in January 2007 on a phone hacking charge, per The Guardian.

More allegations of breach of privacy by News of the World would resurface later. According to The Guardian, the publication's journalists collaborated with a private investigator to capture ex-chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association Gordon Taylor's private messages. In another incident, News of the World reporters allegedly tapped into the phone of slain student Milly Dowler upon her March 2002 disappearance, which prompted her parents to think she was alive, as they shared at a public probe dubbed the Leveson Inquiry.

As a result of accusations against the Murdoch-owned publication, Rupert appeared before the British parliament alongside his son, James Murdoch, who offered a public apology. Rupert would also make an unlikely declaration. "I would just like to say one sentence," he said. "This is the most humble day of my life." In July 2011, News of the World went out of business.

The mogul downplayed sexual harassment accusations against top Fox News employees

In his 2014 release "The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — and Divided a Country," author Gabriel Sherman brought to light the behind-the-scenes inappropriate behavior of the then-Fox News head. Two years after the book was published, ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson took Ailes to court for offensive sexual advances. Her boldness prompted other women — including journalist Megyn Kelly — to come out publicly with similar accusations against Ailes. The infamous scandal inspired the Charlize Theron flick "Bombshell." Ailes eventually exited his role; so did commentator Bill O'Reilly under similar circumstances in April 2017.

After numerous reported settlements, Murdoch appeared to dismiss impropriety in his company in a conversation with Sky News. "It's all nonsense," he claimed. "There was a problem with our chief executive [Ailes], sort of, over the years, but isolated incidents. As soon as we investigated it, he was out of the place in hours — well, three or four days. And there's been nothing else since then."

Reactions from Fox News women via HuffPost claimed he was negligent of his female employees' well-being. However, Murdoch's representative told the publication his words had been misconstrued: "He responded negatively to the suggestion that sexual harassment issues were an obstacle to the Company's bid for the rest of Sky."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Murdoch family doesn't speak to each other at times

Although the Murdoch family shows up for each other, as James Murdoch did when his father was facing problems with News of the World, they don't always see eye to eye. In 2005, Rupert Murdoch was said to have "been alienated and isolated from his older kids" amidst a row over the family trust, per The Wall Street Journal (via CNN). Speaking in an interview with The New Yorker years later, James shared that he and his father weren't entirely on talking terms all the time. "There are periods of times when we do not [talk]," he told the publication.

In the book "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch," Rupert's daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch, pointed out that her father had created a turbulent emotional dynamic, one which his children were fortunately well equipped to weather. "He still falls into stupid old habits. I mean, he's impossible to figure," she told author Michael Wolff, per The Guardian. "He's weirdly awkward about things, but his heart is in the right place. He's very old-fashioned. He finds it hard to talk about emotions, hard to say ... If somebody doesn't know it ... He'll say sorry if you call him on it, but he walks straight into it."

Rupert Murdoch was said to have suffered a near-fatal fall

Per The New York Times, Rupert Murdoch has reportedly suffered a number of falls in the past, most of which have been kept out of the public eye. The media mogul apparently once fell on the carpet in a San Francisco hotel in one instance and tumbled down the steps while leaving the stage in another unfortunate incident.

A January 2018 fall, however, was nearly fatal. Murdoch and Jerry Hall, his fourth spouse, were aboard a yacht in the Caribbean when he reportedly lost his balance while going to the bathroom. He suffered a broken vertebrae from the resulting fall, which required urgent surgical intervention. Murdoch also had a spinal hematoma that placed him at risk of immobility or loss of life.

Murdoch was reportedly airlifted to a Los Angeles hospital, where he received proper medical care. According to Vanity Fair, he apparently sent an email to his top executives, informing them of his predicament. "While I am well on the road to recovery, I have to work from home for some weeks. In the meantime, you'll be hearing from me by email, phone and text!" it reportedly read in part.

Rupert Murdoch's second marriage ended because of infidelity

The love story between Rupert Murdoch and Scottish writer Anna Maria Torv (later Anna dePeyster) began in a setting both were familiar with: she was a journalist, and he was on the interviewee's seat. Three children later, the house that the couple had built for a little over three decades crumbled when someone else caught Murdoch's eye: his would-be third wife, Wendi Deng. While dePeyster wanted to remain married, Murdoch wasn't willing to give it another try.

"I think that Rupert's affair with Wendi Deng — it's not an original plot — was the end of the marriage," dePeyster explained in an interview with The Australian Women's Weekly (via the Independent). "I don't want to get too personal about this ... but [he] was extremely hard, ruthless and determined that he was going to go through with this, no matter what I wanted or what I was trying to do to save the marriage."

Parting with News Corp. afterward wasn't something dePeyster wanted to do either, but her circumstances called for a resignation. On the day she said her goodbyes to the board, dePeyster agreed to go on a date with William Mann, a widower. Mann and dePeyster walked down the aisle a year later and stayed together until his death in 2017. She would later marry Ashton dePeyster in 2019.

Wendi Deng had an alleged affair

From the get-go, Rupert Murdoch's sons didn't approve of his relationship with Wendi Deng, per The New York Times. James and Lachlan Murdoch reportedly had a dinner with their father, during which they tried to change his mind about marrying the producer. He tied the knot anyway and stayed with Deng for 14 years. Unsurprisingly, there was no love lost between Deng and the Murdoch sons as the years went by. The couple had two children during that time, Grace and Chloe Murdoch.

In a twist of fate, the ending of Deng and Rupert's marriage had a familiar script: that of alleged infidelity. According to Rupert's conversation with Fortune, everyone but him was privy to Deng's supposed extramarital affairs. As soon as he got wind of the details, a divorce was inevitable.

Vanity Fair got a hold of Deng's alleged diary entries, which showed she was seemingly smitten by her daughter Grace's godfather, former United Kingdom prime minister Tony Blair, in addition to having relationships with supposed lovers like Myspace co-founder Chris DeWolfe. Asked about his reaction to those entries, Rupert told Fortune, "I was shocked. But I didn't read them and I was not given them until after I had filed for divorce."

Working for Wendi Deng was allegedly 'like a war zone'

Ying-Shu Hsu was a Chinese tutor for Grace and Chloe Murdoch who often traveled with the family. Her time working for the Murdochs came to an end when she injured her knee in a home accident which rendered her unemployable. Although Hsu reportedly tried to sue the Murdochs after her dismissal, the court ruled in their favor. 

Working under Deng apparently wasn't a walk in the park, as she shared in an interview with Gawker. "Everyone who works for her hates her and is scared of her," she claimed to the publication. "When she's there, it's like a war zone." Hsu also alleged that she had to work extra hours with no perks. Additionally, Deng supposedly had frequent flare-ups targeted at her staff, and would blow small mistakes out of proportion.

In response to her allegations, the Murdochs issued a statement that hinted that Hsu was out for vengeance. "Having failed in court, she has apparently turned to the media with unfounded and untrue accusations. We will not dignify them with comment," it partly read. Hsu's assertions, however, were not far from Vanity Fair's report. "I saw she wasn't very nice to her husband," an acquaintance claimed about Deng, subsequently giving an account of how they witnessed her publicly berating Murdoch at dinner shortly after they got married. Long before the couple divorced, they allegedly led independent lives.

The Murdoch sons were purportedly involved in a property row

According to The New York Times, not only were James and Lachlan Murdoch butting heads over who would take control of Rupert Murdoch's businesses, but also their childhood home. The 8,651 square foot Beverly Hills mansion where they grew up had been purchased by Rupert Murdoch back in the '80s. Rupert reportedly acquired the former Stein home for $7 million in September 1986, a little over two years after the death of Doris Stein, Music Corporation of America co-founder Dr. Jules Stein's wife.

In a note to its designer Wallace Neff's son at the time, Rupert unveiled his intention to revamp the property. "My wife and I are extremely excited about it," he'd written, per Los Angeles Times. "And we plan to make it even more as your late father intended."

He eventually listed the house for sale years later, a move that his sons frowned upon, as The New York Times observed. Although Rupert apparently found a potential buyer in "The Wolf of Wall Street" actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the mogul's son, James, bought it for a reported $30 million in 2015.

Rupert Murdoch was given a prostate cancer prognosis

In April 2000, Rupert Murdoch got an unfortunate prostate cancer prognosis. "His doctors have told Mr. Murdoch the prognosis is very good and that it is an extremely low grade form of cancer. He has no intention of changing his work schedule," a statement by Murdoch's representative read, according to The Guardian. It was further revealed that Murdoch would be receiving weeks-long radiotherapy care in order to help with restoration of his health.

By August of the same year, Murdoch was clear of any potentially cancerous cells. "It convinced me of my own immortality," he jokingly said of the treatment process, per the Independent, adding that his heading of News Corp. at the time wasn't shaken at all.

In his chat with Fortune 14 years later, Murdoch affirmed that he had received a clean bill of health from his physicians. He also let the publication know how long he thought was going to be alive. "Well, my mother just died at 103, so that's a start," he remarked. "You should live 20 years longer than your parents."

The media mogul's marriage to Jerry Hall reportedly ended via email

In March 2016, Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall said I do in an intimate London wedding. An excited Murdoch took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to express his joy. "No more tweets for ten days or ever! Feel like the luckiest AND happiest man in [the] world," he wrote. In August 2022, Murdoch and Hall reportedly went their separate ways. Just like his detachment from Wendi Deng, the ending of his fourth marriage to Hall was sudden.

Hall was apparently expecting a meeting with Murdoch at their home in England when she reportedly received the unfortunate news through an email. "Jerry, sadly I've decided to call an end to our marriage," it supposedly read in part, per Vanity Fair. "We have certainly had some good times, but I have much to do. ... My New York lawyer will be contacting yours immediately."

Besides conflicting opinions on abortion, as well as COVID-era masks and tests, Hall and Murdoch were said to have had no marriage-ending arguments. No sooner had Hall settled into the England home she received as part of the divorce settlement, than she discovered that her movements were allegedly being monitored. It apparently took the efforts of Hall's famous ex, Mick Jagger, to disengage surveillance cameras, Vanity Fair reported.

Rupert Murdoch and Ann Lesley Smith apparently called it quits discreetly

Barely a year after Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall had finalized their divorce, he gave cupid yet another try. He'd fallen head over heels in love with Ann Lesley Smith, an ex dental practitioner turned on-air personality. Murdoch and Smith were set to tie the knot in the summer of 2023, in what would have been his fifth marriage. He proposed on St. Patrick's Day in March 2023, in line with his part-Irish background. "I was very nervous," the media mogul told the New York Post then. "I dreaded falling in love — but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I'm happy."

Of course, his ring of choice didn't come cheap. According to the Daily Mail, the value of the 11-carat rock Smith was spotted with at LAX stood at $2.5 million. "It's the largest size diamond that you could wear every day," an expert weighed in.

However, a month hadn't gone by before it was reported that Rupert and Smith weren't headed for the altar after all. The pair had allegedly called off their nuptials due to differences in religious opinions, per a source cited by Vanity Fair.