Rupert Murdoch was growing frustrated that he had heard nothing from the Bancroft family since their initial refusal of his $US5 billion takeover offer for Dow Jones, the owner of The Wall Street Journal. He couldn’t wait.Through their bumbling indecisiveness, the Bancrofts were turning out to be wily negotiators. Murdoch, impatient, began negotiating with himself.Murdoch sent the family unsolicited sweeteners: a News Corporation board seat for one of them, and the promise of a protective structure for the Journal ”exactly along the lines” of what was established when he took over The Times of London a quarter of a century ago.At that paper, Murdoch had agreed to a board of ”directors” with the right to review the hiring and firing of senior editors.Still, he received no answer from the Bancrofts.IT WAS June 4, 2007, when the family members and Murdoch’s group sat down for lunch. The two sides faced each other.Murdoch opened the meeting with a welcome to the Bancrofts and praise for The Wall Street Journal. Because of the size of the room and the width of the table, at least three metres across, his voice seemed faint to the Bancrofts on the other side. They leaned in closer to try to decipher what he was saying. He looked old, at least to the attorney and Dow Jones board member Mike Elefante, who was struck by how unassuming this giant of a businessman appeared in person.Murdoch knew the reputation he had with the family: a meddler in news coverage; someone who used his papers to further his business interests; an apologist for China’s repressive regime. He knew that to get to Dow Jones, he needed to woo the family. To woo them, he needed to rehabilitate his image.He gave a meandering introduction, praising the Bancroft family and everything they had protected over the years. His advisers had coached him on the importance of flattery. In an uncharacteristic moment of self-analysis, he ventured an acknowledgment of his past. ”I’ve made some mistakes,” he said quickly. After a brief pause, he recovered: ”But it’s worked out pretty well in the end.”With a boyish face and closely shorn dark hair, Murdoch’s son and heir apparent, James, arrived almost two hours late. He had delivered a speech that morning in London at a breakfast to benefit the charity Jewish Care.The Bancroft family member and Dow Jones director Leslie Hill felt an obligation to grill the mogul and, typically, broached the topic directly.”How do you deal with coverage of China, given your substantial business interests there?” she asked. She spoke glowingly of the Journal’s coverage of China. In praising Journal reporters’ dedication to their craft, she invoked the death of Daniel Pearl.Murdoch gave a rambling response and pointed out that The Times had done several stories critical of the Chinese government.James looked at his father and grew defensive of the old man.He was at a loss at what he was hearing. Here, the Bancrofts were acting like an august group on the other side of the table. ”He has more work experience in his pinky finger,” James thought of his father.James quickly jumped in, speaking in his staccato tone. ”Look, we were the only broadcaster in China to broadcast the September 11 attacks live,” he said. ”We were the only broadcaster to cover the Taiwanese election,” he added. ”We did it carefully, but we did it.”News Corp had journalists risking their lives all over the world, he thought to himself. He felt that American journalism smacked of self-importance.Instead, he went on to outline News Corp’s business strategy and his personal view about opportunities. ”If it doesn’t make money, we don’t do it,” he said.Then, perhaps to soothe fraying nerves across the table, the elder Murdoch reiterated his willingness to set up an editorial board, as he had done with The Times. He took a copy of the editorial agreement he had given The Times and pushed it across the table. In it, he proposed a board whose members were partly chosen by himself, a structure that had allowed him to force out The Times’s editor, Harold Evans, a year after Murdoch took over the paper.Elefante then handed over a copy of the family’s proposal. Murdoch perused the document as Elefante ran through its main points.The Bancroft proposal suggested that the initial members of Dow Jones’s editorial board be chosen by the Bancroft family, who would choose their own successors in perpetuity. It was their way of cementing control.Murdoch furrowed his brow. Clearly, he didn’t like the agreement in front of him. Under the current configuration of The Times’s board, he explained, he could appoint the paper’s editor but the editor would need to be approved by the independent board. Similarly, he could not remove the editor without the concurrence of the board.When Murdoch left the building that day, photographers and television cameras greeted him. He told them blandly that after more than four hours in the conference room together, ”we had a very long, constructive meeting, and we’ve both gone away to consider both sides”. He and his cohorts went to a cigar bar around the corner afterward to celebrate.The meeting would turn Leslie Hill completely against Murdoch.She felt he had dodged her questions about China. She didn’t trust him. She would spend the rest of the summer scouring the East Coast trying to find alternatives to Murdoch.She didn’t trust Murdoch, she told the Journal’s managing editor, Marcus Brauchli. He hadn’t done much to win her over, and what charm he attempted she found false.Brauchli told her Murdoch was like an escape artist. ”We’re all trying to put Murdoch in a straitjacket, wrap him in chains, put him inside a lead box, padlock it shut, and drop it into the East River,” Brauchli said. ”And five minutes later he will be standing on the bank, smiling.”Three weeks after they met Murdoch that rainy June afternoon, the family just gave up. Exhausted from the to-ing and fro-ing over the structure of the editorial independence agreement, the Bancroft directors handed their negotiating power over to Dow Jones’s board.After 105 years of ownership, the Bancroft stewardship of Dow Jones was over. All that remained was the signing of the papers.It took just three days for the Dow Jones board, eager to see these proceedings come to a close, to send the agreement to News Corp.Over the next several weeks, the Bancrofts suffered a final ignominy.After the deal was signed, they attempted to choose their representative to the News Corp board, the family member who was to preserve their legacy. Fractious as always, the Bancrofts missed their deadline. Murdoch made the choice for them, vetoing the family’s first selection and instead picking a 27-year-old opera singer, Natalie Bancroft, whose greatest qualification for Murdoch was that, unlike some of her Hill and Goth cousins, she held the right surname and wouldn’t raise a fuss in the boardroom.ON AUGUST 3, Brauchli arrived in one of the small executive dining rooms on News Corp’s third floor for his appointed breakfast with Murdoch. He saw the scalps of former conquests hanging on the walls around him: dustjackets of HarperCollins books and corporate paraphernalia were the decor.The two chatted about the economy, and Murdoch grilled Brauchli on his opinions. It was clear to Brauchli that Murdoch was testing him, seeing how much or how little he enjoyed his new editor’s company.Then he laid out for Brauchli his vision for the paper, one he had shared broadly during the deal negotiations: ”The New York Times sets the national agenda, and we should,” Murdoch said, already slipping easily into the role of owner. Brauchli smiled imperceptibly at Murdoch’s mention of ”we”. He wasn’t used to the concept of himself and Murdoch being on the same side.Brauchli wasn’t surprised that Murdoch wanted to attack The New York Times; he had received ample warning of that desire. But the Journal’s sensibility was more subdued, and strategic. Journal editors picked their shots; Murdoch wanted all-out war.Traditionally, the paper had been a newsroom of midwesterners in the centre of New York, a group happy to exist outside the glamour of the city. The Journal was well read in flyover country and in the investment banking corridors of Wall Street, but among the literati and the culture set of Manhattan, it was viewed with a certain disdain, almost as if it were a trade paper. The reporters and editors often thought that was part of the beauty of the place.The Journal told its readers stories they never knew they wanted to hear. The paper revered surprise, running a quirky, often hilarious story every day down the middle of the front page, internally called the ”A-Hed”. The Journal’s investigative reporters often remarked how welcomed they were by corporate executives, who thought that the paper was a friendly outlet. One of the paper’s great specialties was the ”tick-tock,” often riveting reconstructions of significant events that had occurred months earlier. Almost to a fault, the Journal avoided using the influence of its news pages to full effect.Murdoch wanted to wipe all that away. He wanted the Journal to lead the media pack.”If there’s something everyone is talking about, that should be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal,” Murdoch told his aides.He continued his list of priorities for Brauchli. ”We should break more news,” he said. Already Murdoch had planned to add four pages to the paper to accommodate the expanded political and general news he wanted to see in it.As he stepped out of the nondescript News Corp tower onto Sixth Avenue and into the August morning sun, Brauchli felt encouraged. He thought that there was plenty of overlap between his vision and the baron’s.IN A MARCH 2008 meeting, Murdoch dropped by to listen to the paper’s plans to promote yet another redesign, due to launch April 21 with some of Brauchli’s proposed changes. When told he should listen to the paper’s public relations plan, Murdoch said it wasn’t necessary.”We don’t need to talk about this,” he said. Public relations was something Murdoch had never fully trusted. He thought it was a waste of time and, worse, a way to tip your hand to a competitor.”You really should hear what Bob has to say,” urged Kelly Leach, who worked on strategy for Dow Jones, referring to the ever affable vice-president of communications, Robert Christie. Earlier in the week, The New York Times had run a lukewarm story on the paper’s overhaul of its ”Marketplace” section.”Usually my philosophy is we get ahead of the story,” Christie ventured, ”so we’re not in a reactionary mode.””F— The New York Times,” Murdoch growled, suddenly surly. ”I don’t care what the media says.””But Rupert,” Leach ventured, ”we know our advertisers aren’t committed on incremental advertising spend …””We’re going to do this our way and not give them a road map,” Murdoch replied, beginning what became a longer-than-expected rant. ”We’re going to build a fantastic newspaper. I don’t give a f— what the media says.”Finally, Leach edged back into the conversation. ”We’ve been doing market research of our readers and their opinion of the Journal has diminished since News Corp announced it was going to acquire Dow Jones.”Then Murdoch, who had been simmering under the surface, exploded. ”We’re going to build a f—ing great paper and I do not give a f— what New York or the media has to say about it! We’ll build the world’s best paper!” This must be what truly energised him.He didn’t want these nervous midlevel people around him, questioning every move. He wanted them to be aggressive and have fun and be a little more like one of the team.Several weeks later, Brauchli sat in the dingy ninth-floor conference room of Dow Jones’s headquarters in Battery Park City. He had arranged for the chiefs of domestic and foreign bureaus to call in that morning to hear a discussion of the paper’s proposed direction.Toward the end of the meeting, Brauchli checked his BlackBerry and saw that he had a message from the Dow Jones publisher, Robert Thomson. He told the group he had to excuse himself and go to another meeting. Brauchli returned the call.”We have to go and talk to Les,” Thomson said, referring to the chief executive, Leslie Hinton. The two men walked to Hinton’s office; he had just returned from a trip to China. ”Ni hao,” Brauchli said, Mandarin for ”hello.” Hinton didn’t smile.”There’s no easy way to put this but we want you to step down as managing editor. We don’t think things are working out. We’d like to make a change.” Neither Hinton nor Thomson went into detail or explained why. Brauchli knew they were merely handing down a verdict arrived at by their boss.This is an edited extract from War at The Wall Street Journal. How Rupert Murdoch bought an American icon (Text Publishing, $34.95) by Sarah Ellison. Published on Monday.
Nanjing Night Net