What does he see that others do not? What is his vision for one of America’s most venerated dailies? Can he really grow TheJournal in such a hostile economic climate? And if he succeeds, might The Wall Street Journal as we know it, and as millions of readers have loved it, cease to exist?
Murdoch has little patience for ceremony, and his words that takeover day in December were brief and to the point—pledges to make a “great papah” a “bettah papah,” assurances that “we do know and understand the tremendous values of Dow Jones and particularly of TheWall Street Journal, and the very high bar-ah that you’ve set yourselves,” and optimistic talk about how the global economy, and the tremendous “desiah for information” that comes with it, offers TheJournal the chance to become “the preeminent source of financial information and comment in the world.”
After some polite applause, Murdoch introduced Robert Thomson, a lanky, stooped, Ichabod Crane–like figure in a black suit and skinny black tie, who, as Murdoch put it, “will be the publisher, with the editors all reporting to him.” Murdoch explained that Thomson, a veteran of the rival Financial Times who had been editing TheTimes of London for him for almost six years, would have no “business responsibilities” as publisher, which meant that he was the paper’s de facto new editor.
Thus crumbled, with Murdoch’s first words as the new owner, the hopeful wall that had been erected with fanfare while the sale was going through to shield the paper’s editorial content from the flamboyant magnate’s meddling.
The paper’s former top editor, Marcus Brauchli, was just a few paces away, his arms folded across his chest—a slight, amiable, balding man who had emerged victorious from a tumultuous management struggle the previous year, only to find himself presiding over someone else’s newspaper. His rise from the ranks of reporter had been so rapid that his nickname was “The Rocket.” Feelings about Brauchli (pronounced Brock-li) contained the usual mix of admiration and envy that adheres to anyone who achieves remarkable success in a large organization, but overnight all jealousy had been replaced with hope. The weight of TheJournal’s proud traditions were draped across his slender shoulders. He was the newsroom’s champion, whose proven shrewdness and ambition would now be deployed in their defense. And he seemed ideally suited to the task, given that he had been good friends with Thomson for years. If anyone could skillfully navigate the treacherous waters ahead, it was Brauchli.
He would resign in four months.
Rupert Murdoch is, by most accounts, a delightful man. Born to wealth that he has manifestly multiplied, he is a man who lives a globe-trotting lifestyle, a man who need never carry his own bags or stand in line at a security checkpoint at an airport, a man who moves through a string of fabulous residences; it would be easy to assume that he is a coddled, petulant creature of privilege. Yet Murdoch often flies commercial, carries his own bags, prefers a regular hotel room to a suite, uses taxis, and shops everywhere for bargains. Bruce Dover, in his book, China Adventures, tells the story of how Murdoch, on the night of the formal handover of power in Hong Kong to the Chinese government, found himself by a series of accidents alone on foot in Kowloon, lost, trying to find his way back to his hotel with neither money nor cell phone. He wandered for hours, melting in stifling humidity, unable to make himself understood, and when he did finally find his hotel, he was barred from entering by guards who were unimpressed with his protestations in English and his lack of an invitation or an ID. Dover, one of his executives, was at long last summoned to the outer gate to investigate the stubborn imprecations of a damp, walletless old man. Dover found Murdoch actually cheerful, or at least “in surprisingly good humor.”