Skip to main content

The Dow Of Murdoch: The Brits Strike Back Against Ottaways

  • Author:
  • Updated:

It’s letter writing mania! Not only did News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch write a letter Friday to the family which controls Dow Jones. His man at the Times of London, Robert Thomson, wrote to Journal shareholder James H. Ottaway Jr. defending his paper and himself against what he describes as “a challenge to the integrity of the journalists at The Times and to me personally,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Last week Ottaway—whose family controls around 5% of the voting power of Dow Jones—wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing Murdoch’s bid. Ottaway claimed the journalistic integrity of the Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones publications “would be damaged if Rupert Murdoch takes over Dow Jones.”
What really seems to stick in Thomson’s craw is Ottaway’s accusation’s about News Corp’s business interests in China and the way it might affect the coverage of China in News Corp owned newspapers. “There is a clear conflict between his business interest in News Corp.'s Star TV broadcasts into the huge China market, where he has had to kowtow to government censorship, and the sharp criticism of Chinese violations of human rights, religious liberty and free speech that the Journal's editorial page has published. I doubt that freedom to criticize the Chinese government would continue under Murdoch's ownership,” Ottaway wrote.
Thomson, who is the top editor of the Times (which is owned by News Corp), defends his paper against the charge that it panders to China. “As a Beijing correspondent, I was in Tiananmen Square on the night of the massacre in 1989 and was thrown out of Tibet by heavy-handed Chinese officials, so the explicit allegation that we are pandering to the Communist Party came as rather a surprise,” he writes. Attached to the letter is a selection of editorials—leaders in Brit-journo speak—on China, which take a tough line with the Communist Party still running the country. The editorials, which date from May 2005 to January 2007, scold China’s leaders for arresting a journalist, internet censorship, “pervasive” corruption and developing space-based military weapons.
So who are these Ottaway characters who dare doubt the integrity of British journalists on the issue of China? Haven’t they even heard of the Opium War? Don’t they know that no-one can hate China like a Brit? After the jump, some background on how the Ottaways went from working at the Detroit Free Press to being Dow Jones second family.

The story of the Ottaways begins in turn of the century Detroit. Not the most recent one. That other one. We get this story from the Times Herald of Port Huron—not to be confused with the Times of London—which tells the tale that begins with EJ Ottaway quitting the Detroit Free Press in 1900. Along with another former D-Town Free Presser, he bought three small weekly papers in Port Huron. Ten years later, they bought another local paper, the Daily Times, merged it with the Port Huron German Herald, renaming the combined product the Times-Herald. When E.J. died in 1934, control of this budding Michigan media empire passed to his son William, who had been as the business manager of Florida’s St. Petersburg Times.
But William was not destined to become the center of this story. He presided over the paper as business manager and president for fifteen years before selling his interest in the Times Herald to the family of his father’s business partner. But newspapers were in the family, and William’s brother James got into the business for himself by buying the Endicott Bulletin in upstate New York. This was the first in a series of newspaper acquisitions that lead to a small newspaper chain, Ottaway Newspapers, Inc.
In 1970, James Ottaway’s chain merged with Dow Jones. James got $36 million in Dow Jones stock and a seat on the company’s board. Six years later his son, Jim Jr.—the author of the Washington Post op-ed—took over the company, the Times Herald says. According the latest quarterly statement, Dow Jones has sold off some of its Ottaway group properties, and the group’s share of Dow Jones revenue has declined as a result.
Murdoch Sends Letter to Bancrofts Offering Board Seat if Bid Succeeds [Wall Street Journal]
Letter from Times of London's Editor to Ottaway [Wall Street Journal]
The Wrong Man for Dow Jones [Washington Post]
Murdoch bid to buy Dow Jones & Co. spurs history lesson
[Times Herald via Gawker]