The Dow of Rupert, Part II: Can A Family Divided Against Itself Stand In The Way Of Murdoch?

Author:
Publish date:

This week in the Dow of Mudoch opens with the collective lenses of the media tightly focused on the key players—Rupert Murdoch and the Bancroft family.
(Of course, there’s also that news that Murdoch delivered to the family this morning and that the Bancroft’s are holding a meeting to discuss the offer. But we already touched on that stuff a little while ago. Now it’s time to delve into the fun bits: stalking the principals.)
As we predicted, journalists seem to be hunting down the Bancroft family where they live. Over the weekend, the Journal described the Bancroft’s as divided between those who “distrust Mr. Murdoch's media conglomerate” and “those at least willing to hear what Mr. Murdoch has to say.” The Journal also ran a family treejust like the New York Observer, but less cute—that broke the family down into three factions. The Hill family is “considered to be the most willing” to take Murdoch’s offer seriously. The Branch descended from Jane Hill are described as “the most fervent about maintaining the Wall Street Journal’s independence.” The rest, apparently, is anyone’s guess.


It’s not just the Wall Street Journal who is hot on the scent on the Bancrofts. The Financial Times might also be sending reporters around New England. It’s latest report quotes anonymous “insiders” who describe—surprise—a family divided!
Most of the reporting on the offer has depicted the Bancroft family’s resistance to News Corp’s offer as something approaching heroic. Of course, public shareholders who have watched the stock stuck in the doldrums for as long as they can remember may disagree. And the tide may be turning against the family. Bancroft backlash has begun. Fortune describes how the huge dividends paid out to the family have “starved Dow Jones of capital to grow its business.” Those dividends have sometimes exceeded the companies profits, Fortune reports.
This helps make sense of Rupert Murdoch’s promises to increase investment in the company. Reporters and editors witnessing cuts at other newspapers and wire services, might reconsider their opposition to News Corp once they understand that the family’s control has not exactly been a boon for the fortunes of the paper. The union representing Journal employees has publicly worried that News Corp ownership would mean “gutting the enterprise and slashing the staff that make it the leading financial news organization.” Maybe it’s time to rethink that analysis. (But—Rupert—you may not want to get too hopeful. We hear that some of the union representatives are so ideologically opposed to you that nothing will ever win them over.)
Sunday’s New York Times turned up it’s nose to this Bancroft family obsession. Instead, the paper of record spent it’s time with Murdoch—just like it did last Sunday! The Times leads with an entertaining about a party in Murdoch’s Beverly Hill’s mansion. “Mr. Murdoch casually sipped wine and chatted with his daughter, Elisabeth, and other guests. He had planned for the event to be an early dinner party, but he finally headed to bed at 1 a.m., leaving music impresario Quincy Jones and others chatting on a sofa. After all, he had work to do. What partygoers didn’t know was that during the previous week, on April 17, Mr. Murdoch had offered to buy Dow Jones & Company, the venerable publisher of The Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion,” Times reporter Richard Siklos reports.
The occasion for the party? It’s an American Idol viewing party, complete with “several large television monitors” on his terrace. See? Murdoch is just an ordinary America—hanging out with friends and watching American Idol. Except, he’s Australian, his televisions are bigger than yours and his house has a terrace with a view.
(Try not to notice that Murdoch didn’t originally make his offer “during the previous week.” He made it two weeks earlier, at a lunch with Dow Jones chief executive Richard F. Zannino. Sure, it took a couple more weeks to make the formal offer to the board of the company—so the Times story isn’t so much inaccurate as misleading. They don’t even mention the lunch, which makes us wonder if they just didn’t want to have to credit the Journal—which first reported the correct date of the lunch—with that part of the story.)
One thing that is clear is that the Times’ reporters seem to have a lot of access to Murdoch. Siklos spent “couple of days embedded in the Murdoch camp” and learned things such as the fact that Murdoch really likes whitefish and is a huge fan of the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s politics. They even catch him reminiscing about his father’s “beginnings in Australian newspapers.” Like the US military in Iraq, allowing the a reporter to embed himself within “the Murdoch camp” seems to been a very good idea. The report seems thoroughly won over. The overall impression of the piece is that Murdoch is quite favorable and even ends with this charming tale:

By every measure, he appears to believe he has plenty of time to get exactly what he wants. As he wrapped up the conference in Monterey last Sunday, he looked out at his employees and said: “You all think I’m too old.” Pausing for a beat, he added: “I think you’re too old.”

Related