In a piece exploring AT&T’s pending $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, top media journalist and author Michael Wolff floats an interesting theory: namely, that if either former News Corp. COO Peter Chernin or current CNN chief Jeff Zucker don’t replace outgoing Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, Zucker could be tapped by Rupert Murdoch’s sons to replace Roger Ailes atop Fox News.
Wolff explains in a column at the Hollywood Reporter:
With Bewkes gone, his heir apparent, John Martin is likely to be out too, with the betting for the new Time Warner chief on Peter Chernin, the former News Corp COO who operates a small joint venture with AT&T, even though he has been out of big-company management for seven years. CNN’s Jeff Zucker who, having worked for GE when he ran NBC, might be considered a more logical bridge to AT&T and, if rebuffed, might likely be open to the Murdoch sons’ interest in having him come to run Fox News. (Such speculation has led people inside AT&T — having a moment of being blinded by the stars — to a suggestion of hiring former Fox chief Roger Ailes to run CNN and turning media as we know it inside out.)
This isn’t the first time Wolff has pointed out the possibility that Zucker could be tapped to run Fox News by Lachlan and James Murdoch, the eventual successors to their father’s media empire.
In August, Wolff reported that among insiders at Fox, Zucker was said to be not just in the running, but one of the top choices of the younger Murdochs to take the helm at the company in a “post-Ailes world.”
Wolff wrote then:
In part this reflects the Murdoch sons’ view of the future of 21st Century Fox as a modern, multiplatform content and distribution company, one without their father’s political stain. (With the Murdoch newspapers and their ideological views split off from 21st Century Fox in 2013 — partly at the urging of the Murdoch sons — that leaves only Fox News as a political presence in the company.)
And it reflects, after more than a decade in the doldrums, a resurgence of CNN under Zucker, who took the reins in 2012. Most of all though, it reflects a belief that there isn’t anybody with Ailes’ politics from inside or outside the network whom Lachlan and James — 44 and 43, respectively, youthful globalist moderates largely living in an anti-Fox world — could work with or even tolerate.
Before blanching at a possible Zucker-led Fox News, it is instructive to note that Lachlan and James Murdoch have apparently already decided upon a new direction for the cable news juggernaut. As Breitbart News has previously reported, the younger Murdochs appear to want to re-mold Fox News into an entity more like Britain’s Sky News, meaning Fox without the “edge.” That wouldn’t be so surprising given what Wolff himself calls the younger Murdoch sons’ “globalist” bent.
Wolff reported in August that Zucker’s colleagues say he would never accept the top job at Fox, and that he would really like to take over for Bewkes at Time Warner. But if Peter Chernin or anyone else takes that spot, who’s to say Zucker could turn down what would surely be a generous offer from the king of cable news?
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum