Peter Chernin is stepping down from his perch as Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man at News Corp., according to multiple reports. Everyone now expects Murdoch to install one of his kids in Chernin's place.
Chernin's contract expires in June, and he has a clause that allows him to become a well-paid producer on movies for the Fox studio he currently oversees. (The company now confirms his exit, as well as his plans to start a production company.) A convenient out for an untenable situation: Murdoch has always made it clear that he wanted to put one of his children in charge.
Why settle things now, with June some months away? It might have something to do with a story in today's New York Times questioning Murdoch's devotion to the newspaper business. News Corp.'s print holdings have weighed down results even as Chernin's Hollywood empire have steadily produced cash. It's not too difficult to read the story as an argument for why the Chernin (profitable) half of News Corp. is being dragged down by the Murdoch (sentimental) part.
Also, pointing out the dodgy performance of News Corp.'s newspapers is a veiled dig at the current dynastic frontrunner, James Murdoch. The 35-year-old executive oversees News Corp's businesses in Asia and Europe, including a large collection of newspapers, where he's been cutting costs in the name of "editorial efficiency."
Could the elder Murdoch have taken offense? If a squabble over the story was a factor, it can't have been the only one. But in a family business, work is always personal. And no media company inspires speculation about palace intrigue like News Corp.