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Dept. of Succession: Rupert Murdoch Promotes His Sons

Rupert Murdoch walking with sons James Murdoch (R) and Lachlan Murdoch

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Rupert Murdoch walking with sons James Murdoch (R) and Lachlan Murdoch

Sometime quite early this morning, before the sun rose in New York, Rupert Murdoch’s news and entertainment empire announced (PDF) simultaneous dual promotions for Murdoch’s sons. According to the pre-dawn release, older brother Lachlan Murdoch has been promoted to non-executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox (FOXA). Younger brother James Murdoch has been promoted to co-chief operating officer. There was no mention of their sister, Elisabeth Murdoch, who is the founder of Shine Group, a television production company now owned by 21st Century Fox.

The move, coming as it does with little explanation behind the timing, is guaranteed to touch off spasms of speculation among the kremlinologists of the Murdoch empire, who love nothing better than to handicap the odds as to which family member will succeed Rupert.

The move would seem to immediately thrust Lachlan, 42, back into the lead. Nearly a decade ago, Lachlan took a step back from the company after clashing with his father’s top executives in New York. For years afterwards, James, 41, was widely assumed to be the heir to the empire. But the phone hacking scandal in London has severelytarnished James’s reputation, leaving the question of succession even murkier than before. Some assumed that James’s fall from grace had left Elisabeth positioned to succeed her father. Today’s move would seem to restore Lachlan to the top of the sibling pecking order.

On Twitter (TWTR) this morning, Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth dissected the meaning of the move, which he suggested will raise fresh questions about (a) Murdoch’s health:

(b) the future of Chase Carey, 21st Century Fox president and chief operating officer:

And (c) whether there’s more damaging fallout from the phone hacking scandal (such as a U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act settlement) coming down the pipeline:

“It looks like something has made Rupert Murdoch elevate Lachlan & James to runs 21st Fox & News Corp earlier than expected,” Chenoweth wrote. “Curious timing.”

Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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