James Murdoch Talks Vice Investment, Fox News (and, Yes, 'Succession')

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James Murdoch and Radhika Jones

"There are some shows you just know you're never going to watch," the son of Rupert Murdoch told Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones.

James Murdoch wants to be clear: He's not going to watch Succession

"There are some shows you just know you're never going to watch," the son of Rupert Murdoch told Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones during the magazine's New Establishment Summit on Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles.

Murdoch has, however, watched the first two episodes of the second season of Fleabag, though the former 21st Century Fox CEO was not at the event to discuss his take on prestige TV, even those shows said to be based on his family. He was there to tout his new investment firm, Lupa Systems, which the exec said is focused on "important or interesting themes and developments" across tech, media and storytelling. "The goal here is just to really dig into those," he said.

Murdoch launched Lupa after departing Fox following the sale of most of its assets to Disney, a transaction that netted him about $2 billion in personal wealth. So far, the company has invested in Vice Media; Tribeca Enterprises, the owner of the Tribeca Film Festival; comic book publisher Artists, Writers & Artisans; and VR startup the Void. 

Murdoch has had a long relationship with Vice, joining the board in 2013 after Fox invested $70 million in the Shane Smith-founded business. Murdoch is also a close childhood friend of Jesse Angelo, who was hired by Vice in June to lead the company's news, digital and entertainment businesses. "Our belief is that, in the case of Vice for example, the importance of a brand for young people in news with high-quality storytelling across a global footprint is something that's just going to increase," he said, explaining the investment. "It's a company with incredible leadership and incredible growth ahead of it as the digital media world continues to shift, both in terms of mergers and acquisitions but also the development of these brands with a whole new generation of customers." 

According to Murdoch, it was his plan to leave Fox after the sale to Disney. He says he wasn't interested in becoming Bob Iger's successor and took himself out of consideration for a role at the newly combined company. 

Murdoch — who described Lupa as "the second scene of my first act" — said that he met with and took advice from IAC chairman (and former Fox executive) Barry Diller about what to do after the sale. "He left Fox when he was older than I am now," Murdoch explained. "That I found incredibly encouraging and exciting in talking to him and learning about how he approached those new challenges." 

Jones also reached back into Murdoch's history, asking him about the ouster of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 after an allegation of sexual harassment became public. "It's very clear what the right thing to do is," Murdoch said. "If you find credible evidence of wrongdoing that doesn't comport with your values or what you aspire your values as an organization to be, you have to take decisive action no matter how senior or fancy or profitable the person it." 

But when Jones pressed him about how the toxic culture at Fox News had been able to flourish during earlier years, he avoided a direct response. "It's hard for me to answer because I wasn't around for any of that," he said. "All I can say is when I have been running an organization ... when you become aware of information like that, you have to move pretty quickly. I was surprised at what had happened there. I think maybe there was a bit of a corporate empire that was built up within Fox News. It had too much independence, perhaps. I can't really say, I wasn't there."

Murdoch said he doesn't watch Fox News today but declined to name specific outlets that he does, instead saying he receives his news from "a variety of sources." He did say that he has talked to his father as well as his brother, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, about content but not about the business, and added that he hasn't consulted with them about a replacement for Fox News host Shepard Smith. "I saw that he left. I was disappointed to see that,"  said the exec.

On the topic of Fox's partisan news coverage, Murdoch acknowledged that "there's plenty on Fox News that I disagree with." He also called talk radio "crazily damaging" and pointed to the cable news landscape as a whole as "engaging in a dialogue that's not terribly helpful." 

Murdoch, who is known as being more politically liberal than his father, acknowledged his financial donations to Pete Buttigieg, saying that the Democratic presidential candidate "has the composure, the character, the thoughtfulness, the courage to handle some of the hardest challenges that we have, but we have to see how it all plays out." 

Jones ended the interview by asking Murdoch about reports that he has built a Canadian bunker — "That's just for fishing up north" — and his thoughts on his legacy. "It's too early to think about legacies," he said, adding, "I want to be as useful as I can."