Rupert Murdoch did not become a media tycoon by turning tail at the first sign of resistance in his business dealings. New York Times media columnist David Carr examines Rupert Murdoch's past successes in wooing reluctant sellers into folding their companies into the News Corp. family with promises of benign oversight and marginal interference at best, only to run roughshod over the company and imprint it with Murdoch's style before the ink is dry on the corporate bill of sale.
The Bancroft family, who owns The Wall Street Journal along with several other media properties via a controlling stake in Dow Jones & Co., Inc., declined Murdoch's offer of $60 a share, or approximately $5 billion, early last week. News of the offer sent the price of Dow Jones soaring instantly as it jumped almost 60% in a matter of minutes. David Carr doesn't believe that Murdoch's pursuit of The Wall Street Journal is over, and neither apparently does the market, as the price of Dow Jones shares remains relatively stable at post-offer levels. This is Murdoch's specialty and how he became a billionaire. Cash and whispered promises can make any shareholder or business owner a little weak in the knees and in resolve:
In 1969, he showed up as a white knight when the Carr family (not my people, by the way) were struggling to maintain control of News of the World in London. He assured them that a family member would remain chair and that he would acquire no more than 40 percent of the stock. Not.
In 1976, Dorothy Schiff, owner of The New York Post, found a sympathetic ear and a promise of editorial continuity for her paper, but a cadre of British and Australian journalists began remaking the paper and staff as soon as Mr. Murdoch gained control. As owner of the Post, he took the lead with the newspaper unions on behalf of all the New York newspapers during the 1978 strike and then cut a side deal.
In 1981, he romanced both Harry Evans and his then fiancée Tina Brown for The Sunday Times and The Times of London, but that, too, came to tears. In the mid-1980s, Mr. Murdoch engaged in a dialogue with British newspaper unions even as he built a new printing facility (gilded with razor wire no less) that would render them beside the point.
When we first wrote about Murdoch's offer last week, we mentioned that the Bancroft family has long considered ownership of The Wall Street Journal as not just about the bottom line, but acting as responsible stewards of a public trust. Carr digs up a quote of Murdoch's from a 1983 interview that shows that's not really his policy:“All newspapers are run to make profits. Full stop. I don’t run anything for respectability. The moment I do, I hope someone will come and fire me and get me out of the place — because that’s not what newspapers are meant to be about.”
Separately, while the Bancroft family's answer of "no" to Murdoch left some ambiguity about the nature of and reason for refusal, the Ottaway family, whose company is part of Dow Jones' local media group, was less equivocal. They don't like Rupert Murdoch and feel that he would ruin The Wall Street Journal. They don't like his business practices, they don't like his politics, and they don't like him personally. “Dow Jones is not for sale, at any price, to Rupert Murdoch,” said James H. Ottaway Jr., who is the trustee for most of the family's shares. The Ottaway family's stake does not even approach that of the Bancroft's, but they do own one of the largest voting blocs of Dow Jones shares, and James Ottaway Jr. has a long history with the company and is well respected by the Bancroft family.
(Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP Staff)