Parsing the Latest News Corp. Troubles

| About: News Corporation (NWS)

Some thoughts on the News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) situation:

  • The quick rise within News Corp. of Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor and Clinton administration antitrust lawyer, is on display. Not only was Mr. Klein perched right behind Rupert and James Murdoch during today's testimony, right next to Rupert's wife Wendi Deng, but, as Peter Lattman noted, News Corp. hired Williams & Connolly's Brendan Sullivan Jr. as its lawyer. Mr. Klein's wife Nicole Seligman is a former Williams & Connolly partner who worked with Mr. Sullivan. If Mr. Klein started out at News Corp. trying to grow an education business, he now has a much broader mandate.
  • The members of Parliament questioning the Murdochs yesterday looked, to me, like fools. Most of them have probably never run any organization even close to the size of News Corp., yet there they were with perfect hindsight interrogating the Murdochs on how they should have been running their company, as if the members of Parliament somehow knew better than the Murdochs. Here's an idea: let Parliament run the government, and let the Murdochs run News Corp. Even worse, Parliament couldn't even provide adequate security at the hearing to keep Rupert Murdoch from getting attacked.
  • There is something really weird about the New York Republican Congressman Peter King — who gets a lot of support and attention from Fox News and the New York Post — calling for an FBI investigation into Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
  • David Carr is onto something with that column about News America marketing, led by New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci, who "used to show the sales staff the scene in 'The Untouchables' in which Al Capone beats a man to death with a baseball bat." If you put the British phone hacking stuff together with the News America marketing stuff and the Judith Regan stuff and the Jared Paul Stern stuff, the picture that emerges is of a company where there's a certain amount of behavior that might be considered unusual at another company. Granted it's a big company.
  • There were several sentences in Monday's editorial in the Wall Street Journal that I didn't find particularly convincing. The Journal writes, "there is no denying that News Corp. has invested in the product. The news hole is larger. Our foreign coverage in particular is more robust, our weekend edition more substantial, and our expansion into digital delivery ahead of the pack." Absent a dollar-for-dollar, like-to-like comparison of the Journal news budget pre-Murdoch and post-Murdoch, which isn't provided in the editorial or anywhere else I've seen, this doesn't prove anything. Ask the folks in the Boston bureau, which Mr. Murdoch closed. Or ask after the Friday "Taste" page, also closed. The Journal editorial goes on, "The Bancrofts were admirable owners in many ways, but at the end of their ownership their appetite for dividends meant that little cash remained to invest in journalism. We shudder to think what the Journal would look like today without the sale to News Corp." Whatever you thought of the Wall Street Journal at the end of the Bancroft era, it was hardly under-resourced. It had a vast army of reporters and editors and bureaus. The sentence seems to suggest that an appetite for dividends and investment in journalism are somehow at odds, a suggestion that, if true, should be a warning to News Corp. shareholders. What would the Journal look like if News Corp. hadn't bought it? Maybe another buyer would have risen, one who would have paid a lower price and wouldn't have had to write off billions of dollars on the investment. Maybe the existing owners would have made their own changes. The editorialists seem unable to imagine either possibility. The editorial also charges that competing papers "want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world." Well, what about the evidence that the CEO of Dow Jones resigned over the thing?
  • I've been reluctant to write about this much because I have a certain ambivalence about News Corp. I have a lot of friends who work there. The Journal editorial page and Fox News are often (though not always) on my side politically and ideologically, I was myself a consultant to the Journal editorial page in 2000 and 2001 and more recently have published articles there and have had my book reviewed there. I've appeared on Fox News, and that helps me sell books and drive traffic to this Web site. Nicole Seligman represented the Forward when I worked there, and I like her and Joel Klein and feel warmly toward them, though I haven't seen much of them recently. There was an effort to sell the New York Sun to News Corp. when I was a part-owner of the Sun, an effort in which I was not personally involved and which never came to fruition. The New York Post business section was derisive toward the Sun and has been nasty to friends of mine. The closest I've ever come personally to Rupert Murdoch was when he cut ahead of me in line at the coat check at the Commentary 80th birthday party for Norman Podhoretz. All of which is a long way of saying I'm not close enough to the situation to bring any real inside insights to bear, but also not far enough from it to be completely objective, which probably explains why I've been reluctant to write much about it.

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