The Lawyer Behind the Throne at Fox

By Ben Smith13 days ago

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LOS ANGELES In early 2019, as the Murdoch family completed the $71 billion sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, executives at the movie studio learned that someone was reading all their emails.

And not just anyone: Viet Dinh, the Fox Corporations chief legal officer and close friend of Foxs chief executive, Lachlan Murdoch, had brought on a team of lawyers to investigate the potential improper use of Fox data by top 21st Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney while the terms were still being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman said. The studios president, Peter Rice, and its top lawyer, Gerson Zweifach, protested that they were merely conducting normal transition planning and that Mr. Dinh was being so paranoid he might blow up the transaction.

The episode didnt scuttle the deal. But the previously unreported conflict between the studio executives and Mr. Dinh, a sociable and relentless Republican lawyer who was the chief architect in 2001 of the antiterrorism legislation known as the Patriot Act, offers a rare glimpse into the opaque power structure of Rupert Murdochs world. The nonagenarian mogul exercises immense power, through News Corp and the Fox Corporation, in driving a global wave of right-wing populism. But basic elements of how his media companies run remain shrouded in mystery.

In the case of the Fox Corporation, the questions of who is in charge and what the future holds are particularly hazy. The company, minus its studio, is now a midsize TV company adrift in a landscape of giants like Disney and AT&T that control everything from cellular phone networks to streaming platforms, film and television. Foxs profits are dominated by Fox News. Lachlan Murdochs more liberal brother, James, who no longer holds an operational role in the family businesses, has made clear hed like to see a change.

And since the studio sold, a person who knows Lachlan Murdoch said, Los Angeles has become a less hospitable place to him and his family. If youre a studio boss with actors and directors on payroll, Hollywood can overlook your embarrassing right-wing cable interests. But after the Disney sale, and after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Mr. Murdoch risked becoming a social pariah. James Murdoch didnt help when he complained to The Financial Times about outlets that propagate lies to their audience.

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