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For Clues to a Murdoch-Owned Journal, Look to London
If Murdoch gets the Journal, he gets another several hundred big-league intelligence assets working for him, creating information that can be sold on the Internet and on Murdoch's new cable business news channel, a rival to CNBC, set to launch later this year.
Under Murdoch's ownership, the Times has expanded its staff. The paper now has about 495 journalists, including the online unit, and 20 foreign bureaus, a number that has doubled in recent years, Thomson said.
Also, the Times's circulation, which had been stagnant at about 200,000 for decades, now tops 670,000. The Times is a "much more democratic paper now," Thomson said. At the same time, Thomson fiercely defends the seriousness of his Times, noting that the paper gives only about a half-page per day to celebrity news. Such material is covered extensively by Murdoch's more lowbrow U.K. tabloids, the Sun and the News of the World.
Which brings us to the other Murdoch.
A group of Journal reporters and editors is so worried about Murdoch that they have written to the Bancroft family -- controlling owners of Journal parent Dow Jones -- urging them to hold firm against Murdoch's bid.
"Based on Rupert Murdoch's history with other papers, I am deeply concerned that if he were to acquire the Journal, he would erode these traditions and use its news coverage to advance his own agenda," wrote Daniel Golden, who won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for a series of Journal stories on the wealthy making donations to prestigious colleges to gain admission for their children.
No Journal reporters or editors interviewed for this article would speak on the record. Journal Managing Editor Paul E. Steiger has strongly recommended that his reporters not speak to the media about Murdoch's bid.
Journal reporters who cover nonfinancial news and write features are chilled by Murdoch's assertion that there is significant revenue to be made in financial journalism and his admission that he rarely finishes long articles. They wonder if there is a place for them in Murdoch's Journal.
". . . Mr. Murdoch, the man who would be my employer, has made it clear that my job, my passion, my great luck and my small part of the splendiferous whole that is the Wall Street Journal is flawed -- and, let's be honest, bound for the scrap heap should he acquire your newspaper," Journal reporter Joshua Prager wrote to Michael B. Elefante, the Bancrofts' representative on the Dow Jones board.
Others have criticized Murdoch for his dealings with China, where he has growing television interests. In a 2001 article in the Journal, former Times editorial writer and reporter Tunku Varadarajan called Murdoch the "master practitioner of the corporate kowtow," saying he used News Corp. to curry favor with the communist government, such as removing the BBC from his satellite television broadcasts to China because its reports were critical of the government's human rights record.
Thomson, a former Asia correspondent, said his paper is tough on China. He pointed to an editorial he wrote in the Times in February 2006 criticizing Yahoo, which had handed over information that allowed Beijing to identify a dissident who was using his Yahoo e-mail address to criticize the government.
The bible for many Murdoch-haters is former Times editor Harold Evans's 1984 book, "Good Times, Bad Times," in which he quotes Murdoch as saying that his promises of editorial independence for the Times "aren't worth the paper they're written on."
News Corp. calls Evans's assertion and his book "self-justifying fantasy." Murdoch has declined repeated requests for interviews.
Former Dow Jones director Jim Ottaway Jr., who wrote an opinion article critical of Murdoch's bid that appeared in Monday's editions of The Washington Post, said in an interview that Murdoch's "New York Post and Fox News network editorial policies are biased expressions of his political and personal interests [and] are clear and present threats to honest American journalism."
Ottaway would prefer that Dow Jones not be sold. If it is sold, nearly any owner is preferable to Murdoch, he said. None has come forward, however, according to Ottaway, who said he is regularly speaking with the Bancroft family and other major shareholders.
Murdoch offered to meet with Ottaway in an attempt to assuage his concerns, but Ottaway refuses.
"I don't need to meet him," Ottaway said. "I know exactly who he is and what he does."
For his part, Thomson called Ottaway's op-ed comments "outrageous." "Has he ever read the Times?" he asked.