31 May 2007

Meet The Family

After holding out for weeks, the Bancroft family has finally agreed to meet with Rupert Murdoch to discuss his "generous" bid for their family heirlooms:
"The family has reached consensus that the mission of Dow Jones may be better accomplished in combination or collaboration with another organization, which may include News Corporation," the Bancrofts said in a statement.

The family said it would meet with Murdoch and News Corp. representatives to see if they can find a way to protect the editorial independence of Dow Jones after a sale.
Is it just about the editorial pages? If that were so, the bid would be a done deal: Murdoch's rabid right-wing bile is only a fraction more acidic than the WSJ's usual slobbering crapola. Methinks there could be more to it than that:
The family also said it was willing to consider other bidders and options for the company.

Veteran U.S. newspaper analyst John Morton said he doubts that meeting Murdoch will change the Bancrofts' minds.

"I don't think this is a capitulation. This is a family and I suspect that most of the majority of the family that opposes the Murdoch bid has some obligation to resolve their concerns," Morton said. "I can't envision a scenario in which the family essentially gives up control. They might bring in a partner but not a controlling partner."
Here's one dissenting voice the Bancrofts might want to listen to. Matt Pottinger is a US Marine currently serving in Iraq. He is also a former employee of the WSJ's China office. This is his advice:
[W]hile Murdoch's media products in the United States and Britain are well known, his operations in China, where I had a glimpse into their workings, are not. His News Corp. owned a substantial stake in Phoenix TV, a widely watched television network in China that routinely kowtows to the ruling Communist Party. As anyone who has seen Phoenix TV's news coverage knows, its self-censorship is routine.

In 2003, when the deadly SARS virus was threatening to trigger a global pandemic, the Chinese government persistently denied that its country contained the seeds of such an outbreak even though the simple reporting of this fact was the needed first step toward prevention of a monumental public health disaster. In the face of this coverup, a courageous Chinese surgeon drafted a detailed letter identifying SARS cases in Beijing itself and had it delivered to Murdoch's TV network for public broadcast. And what did the network do with the letter? The same thing any other obedient Chinese news agency would have done: nothing.

The surgeon's letter eventually found its way into the hands of Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, which published stories on it. The Chinese government was finally forced to admit it had a health problem and to adopt measures that contained the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, this example does not stand alone. When a NATO warplane bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, I saw Murdoch's reporters at Phoenix TV use the event to fuel an anti-American propaganda orgy while hesitating to report the Clinton administration's apology and admission that the bombing was a mistake. You expect the Chinese government to behave this way, but didn't Murdoch recently write that he has "always respected the independence and integrity of the news organizations" with which he is associated?

It would be one thing if he confined his self-censorship to his Chinese publishing ventures, but I'm afraid he doesn't. Beijing goes out of its way to punish American corporations that produce news or films it finds offensive. Murdoch understands how the game works...
Unfortunately, Pottinger may be a few bricks short of a full load:
Murdoch is not an editorial ogre but a smart, charming businessman with a pioneering style of journalism that has its place in a free country. His editorial support of America's troops is generous, and he has created a fresh point of view with Fox News. I'm also told he keeps his hands off the Australian, one of the many newspapers he owns.
Good one, Matt. Even Tim Dunlop would have to laugh at that one!

If 100 years of newspaper history is on their minds, the Bancrofts would do well to consider what might happen to their media empire once the aging butcher of Fleet Street is dead. On that note, here's an old New York Times link from 2005 to add to your "Wendi Deng Watchers" collection:
A simmering debate over the trust that owns the family's 28.5 percent voting stake in the News Corporation surfaced with the resignation last week of Lachlan, Mr. Murdoch and Mrs. Mann's elder son, from his job at the News Corporation, where he was seen as a potential successor to his father.

The precipitating reason for Lachlan's departure, he has told several people, was his father's undermining of his position within the company over a long period.

People close to both father and son have also acknowledged, however, that tensions over the trust were a factor, and those tensions stem from the conflicting maternal ambitions of Ms. Deng and Mrs. Mann...

Because Mrs. Mann had played a major role in Mr. Murdoch's life while he built the company and was also a director of the News Corporation, speculation surrounding the divorce was that she could be entitled to as much as half of his interest. But Mrs. Mann, who knew of Mr. Murdoch's relationship with Ms. Deng before the divorce, preferred a settlement that enshrined the children's future control of the media empire.
Don't forget, that big Eric Ellis exposé of Wendi Deng is due out any day now...

UPDATE: Much, much more at my new blog, THE WENDI DENG WATCHERS CLUB!