Swooping in for the Kill

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Later today, the board of directors of Dow Jones will consider approving a tentative agreement for Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the company, which publishes the venerable Wall Street Journal.

For weeks now, the possibility that the tabloid-minded Murdoch, who already owns Fox News Channel and the New York Post, might get his hands on the Journal has caused great consternation in business and journalistic circles. But, as always, money rules, and a $5 billion offer for the company, far more than its actual stock value, is nothing to sneeze at.

In this morning's Journal, Sarah Ellison wrote that the deal still faces its biggest hurdle: obtaining approval from the Bancroft family, which controls 64 percent of Dow Jones's voting power.

Today, a story on The New York Times website says the Bancrofts have shown great ambivalence about the deal, which could be resolved by next week. They initially rejected Murdoch's overtures, and only later agreed to study the offer.

As a condition of considering a sale, the Times says, the family demanded a binding agreement that would limit News Corp.'s ability to hire and fire the top editors of the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, which would, in turn, limit Murdoch's ability to control their content.

In today's Washington Post, Frank Ahrens writes that News Corp. is valued at just under $70 billion, dwarfing Dow Jones, which had a market capitalization of less than $4 billion before Murdoch's bid became public on May 1.

The deal, if consummated, would bring the Journal, Barron's financial weekly, Dow Jones Newswires and the Ottaway community papers into News Corp.'s global empire, which includes the Fox television network, Twentieth Century Fox movie studios, satellite television networks in Europe and Asia, and numerous newspapers in Australia and England, including the London Times.

In today's Los Angeles Times, Joseph Menn writes that Christopher Bancroft and some other members of his family object to the sensationalism of Murdoch's British tabloids and the New York Post, and the conservative bent of its Fox News Channel.

"They are also concerned that Murdoch will steer news coverage to serve his business interests, a fear that Murdoch has rejected as baseless," Menn writes. In a story posted yesterday, The New York Observer's Felix Gillette writes that James Ottaway Jr., who worked for Dow Jones for 36 years until retiring last year, has no respect for Murdoch's integrity.

A News Corp. outlet in China, Star TV, "is completely censored for any news that would disturb the Chinese government," Ottoway said. "They just parrot the Chinese communist government propaganda line. To me, that's disgusting. It has a human impact. It puts people in jail. It gets people murdered."

"If the Bancroft Family has decided that it may not be able to protect the independence of Dow Jones and its crown jewel, the Wall Street Journal, as a stand-alone company in a more competitive media future," Ottaway said, "then I hope they will refuse Murdoch's offer and find a more trustworthy guardian of the high standards of journalism the family has heroically protected for 100 years."

Robert McChesney, president of the media reform group Free Press and a professor at the University of Illinois, said today that Murdoch's proposed takeover of The Journal "may not be illegal, but it's certainly wrong."

"Less than a dozen outlets (the major TV networks, a few cable news channels and couple of newspapers) set the national news agenda. They decide what most citizens will, or will not, learn. If this deal goes through, Murdoch would control three of them: the Fox Network, Fox News Channel and the Journal. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for his media empire. When is it enough?"

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images



Nick Madigan