A Michael Wolff book tends to be something of an event, with spicy excerpts and embargo-defying leaks flowing forth in the lead-up to publication. The first such tell-all in Wolff’s blockbuster Trumpworld trilogy, 2018’s Fire and Fury, was a Category 5 media shitstorm, propelled to the top of the best-seller list through a potent mix of conservative outrage, liberal schadenfreude, and the requisite controversy around allegations of inaccuracy and Wolff’s less-than-conventional journalistic methods. (A Saturday Night Live spoof starring Fred Armisen as Wolff certainly didn’t hurt.) The second and third installments, 2019’s Siege and 2021’s Landslide, didn’t hit shelves with quite the same fervor, but that was to be expected—there’s only so much Trump Sturm und Drang that any one human can stomach. Now, with The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty, Wolff has directed his poison pen back to a topic that helped make his name.
For those of you who haven’t read Wolff’s 2008 biography, The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch (for which the author’s subject, famously and to much regret, granted a stunning level of access), The Fall brings you up to speed on the lives of Rupert and his three Succession-inspiring children, Lachlan, James, and Elisabeth, whose apparently competing visions for the future of their father’s most polarizing and influential media outlet, Fox News, provide the narrative tension. The elder Murdoch siblings (let’s not forget about Prudence, though she remains a bit more in the background) share the spotlight, for the most part, with a triumvirate of Fox News prime-time personalities, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, whose fates at the money-minting cable news channel hang in the balance.
But enough of the thematics—you came here for the down and dirty, which The Fall serves up like Page Six on steroids: Roger Ailes’s “American blow-job test”; 14-year-old Carlson losing his virginity at a Nevada brothel; Murdoch’s fourth wife telling friends that his two daughters from his third wife tried to “poison” her by slipping shellfish into a pasta entree, despite knowledge of her “intense allergy” (neither Carlson nor the daughters say anything about this stuff in the book); also, robust insinuations of alcoholism that our lawyers would probably rather we not repeat here. Some readers will dismiss the book as the work of an unreliable narrator. (“Is it considered fiction?” one such skeptic sniffed after I mentioned that my advance copy was in hand.) Others will celebrate it as a PR-slaying gossip dump from a man unafraid to poke the hornet’s nest of power. Wherever you land on that spectrum, good chance you will at least find it entertaining. (Fox Corporation didn’t have a comment and Fox News has been giving out the following statement: “The fact that this author’s books are spoofed by ‘Saturday Night Live’ is really all we need to know.”)
I caught up with Wolff a week before his September 26 pub date to talk about all of this and more. Our condensed and edited conversation is below.
Vanity Fair: Are you ready for the onslaught, if there is to be one?
Michael Wolff: No. I never am.
You get nervous when your books are about to come out?
You start to feel a jumble of, oh, my God, what have I not thought about here? I mean, the logical thing to think about is, what are the Murdochs going to do? How are they going to respond? I haven’t thought about that until now, which is strange because I’ve been through this before.
The Fall is as much about the Murdochs as it is about Fox. Did you approach this as a sort of postscript to The Man Who Owns the News?
I didn’t. It actually began because I was interested in Tucker. I think that’s a story that involves all kinds of strains of what’s politically going on right now. And then as we came into in 2022, with Dominion [which brought a billion-dollar libel suit against Fox], with Rupert being older and older and older, with messages that I began to get from the James camp, I thought, there’s a denouement here. And then, you add in strains of the Murdoch-Fox-Trump relationship, and I thought, the end is nigh.
The subtitle is “the End of Fox News” because you believe that whatever happens after Rupert dies, it’s going to become a fundamentally different network, or because you actually think the network will cease to exist?
I think it will cease to exist in its present form. I think it will go into a radical transition in which, either James Murdoch will take over and change it into something else, or they will sell it. Fox has existed in its present state just for one reason: It’s controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is the one man who can stand up, or has been able to stand up, to the political and social opprobrium at a fierce, fierce level, and to do this for the sake of making enormous amounts of money. But when he departs, that changes very clearly and very quickly.
The prospect of James, with the support of his sisters, wresting control of the company from Lachlan after Rupert dies—that’s been floated in previous reportage, but in more of an informed speculation sort of way. I mean there’s a reason why that idea ends up in a Maureen Dowd column. You go very in depth on it. It’s one of the narrative arcs of the book, with this added ripple that James wants to keep Fox and turn it into “a force for good,” and Liz wants to sell it. It sounds like you think one of those two outcomes is definitely going to happen.
Yes. Definitely, invariably going to happen.
Which outcome do you think is more likely?
I think it’s more logical, at any rate, to sell the whole damn thing. And I think the position that cable television news is not going to get more valuable, it’s only going to get less valuable, is persuasive.