Slow down, everyone: James Murdoch is not taking over 21st Century Fox

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Report: Rupert Murdoch Stepping Down As Fox CEO

This morning's news that Rupert Murdoch is tapping his younger son James to become CEO of 21st Century Fox has led many to speculate that the announcement resolves the company's decades-long succession drama. While James's promotion is a big deal — not least because it means he survived the London phone-hacking scandal — it is not a definitive coronation by any means. That's the assessment that was echoed in conversations this morning with people close to the Murdochs.

The truth is, the succession question is far from being answered. For one thing, Rupert isn't going anywhere. "This is a title change, it is not a role change for Rupert," a person with knowledge of the decision said. "Rupert will still run the place no matter what the structure," said another. As executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and News Corp., he will still sit atop both of his media companies. By naming the 42-year-old James CEO of 21st Century Fox, Rupert is putting him in charge of his entertainment and television operations, a role occupied by outgoing COO Chase Carey. "James is a hands-on operator," a person close to the company says.

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Slow down, everyone: James Murdoch is not taking over 21st Century Fox
SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 10: James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and the deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation, arrive for morning session of the Allen & Co. annual conference at the Sun Valley Resort on July 10, 2013 in Sun Valley, Idaho. The resort is hosting corporate leaders for the 31st annual Allen & Co. media and technology conference where some of the wealthiest and most powerful executives in media, finance, politics and tech gather for weeklong meetings. Past attendees included Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 15: Christian Seifert (L), chairman of business for the DFL talks to James Murdoch, CEO News Corporation Europe and Asia, during the DFL new year's reception at the Thurn und Taxis Palais on January 15, 2013 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for DFL)
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 27: Christian Seifert (C), CEO of Deutsche Fussball Liga DFL poses with James Murdoch (L), Co COO 21st Century Fox and Jeremy Darroch, CEO of British Sky Broadcasting during the the DFL New Year`s Reception 'Anstoss 2015' at Thurn und Taxis Palais on January 27, 2015 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Former BSkyB chairman and non-executive director James Murdoch, son of News Corp media mogul Rupert Murdoch, arrives to attend the BSkyB Annual General Meeting (AGM) in central London on November 1, 2012. James Murdoch, 39, quit as chairman of British pay-TV giant BSkyB, which is 39-percent-owned by Rupert Murdoch's US-based News Corporation, in April 2012 in the wake of the News International phone-hacking scandal. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
(FILES) In a file picture taken on July 13, 2011 News International Chairman and Chief Executive James Murdoch arrives for work in east London. James Murdoch, at the centre of the phone hacking scandal in his family's British newspaper business, has resigned from the board of GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceuticals giant said on January 27. Rupert Murdoch's son has decided against seeking re-election as a non-executive director. AFP PHOTO / WARREN ALLOTT (Photo credit should read Warren Allott/AFP/Getty Images)
Chairman and chief executive,News Corporation Europe and Asia James Murdoch speaks during the inauguration of the Fedration of Indian Chambers of Commerce and industry (FICCI) frames in Mumbai on March 23, 2011. Murdoch said that digitization and competition had the prospect of raising the size of India’s media and entertainment sector from US$ 15 billion to US$ 120 billion as the creative sector could grow in proportion to its size in other advanced economies. AFP PHOTO/Sajjad HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - JANUARY 25: James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, looks on during the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference at HVB Forum on January 25, 2011 in Munich, Germany. DLD brings together global leaders and creators from the digital world. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

Equally significant is the news that Rupert is elevating his oldest son Lachlan as well. As part of the reorganization, Rupert is naming Lachlan, 43, co-chairman of 21st Century Fox. (Last year, Lachlan was named co-chairman of News Corp., the publishing arm.) "Consider this the ascension of both sons, and not James," a person close to Rupert told me. How this will all work is anyone's guess. One Murdoch intimate described the power-sharing arrangement as a "partnership." But another said, "Lachlan is the first among equals."

Rupert long ago established a family dynamic where the children fought for his affections. As the brothers ascended the ranks of his empire, they remained intensely competitive with each other. Once, years ago, when James read in a newspaper that Lachlan was heir apparent, he crumpled it up and screamed, "It's not fucking true!" At the height of the London phone-hacking scandal, Rupert notably turned to Lachlan for counsel, a move that left James wounded. And now the patriarch is elevating both sons. What it means is that, far from ending the competition, Rupert is stoking it.

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