Rupert Murdoch and the Luck of the Bancrofts

Was there ever a luckier clan than the Bancrofts, whose elders okayed the $5 billion sale of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. on Tuesday. There’s been some solemn talk about the Bancrofts’ “stewardship of this national institution” since they acquired the Dow Jones company a century ago. In fact the Journal was an undistinguished little sheet till a journalistic genius called Barney Kilgore decided in the years after World War II that a businessman in San Francisco should be able to read the same paper as one in Chicago or New York. Kilgore devised the technology to do this, along with the paper’s reportorial stance, serious but often humorous, in the style of the Midwest which is where Kilgore – a Hoosier — was from.

Kilgore made the Bancrofts really rich and they continued in that state for almost half a century though their stewardship was either indifferent or inept, beyond the pleasant chore of raking in the money. Now they can trouser Murdoch’s gold and trot off into the sunset, mumbling that they have extracted all the usual pledges from Rupert Murdoch that he will respect the Journal’s editorial independence.

Surely the 76-year mogul must quake with inner merriment as he goes through this oft-repeated rigmarole, which I listened to almost 30 years ago when he bought the the Village Voice. So far as I can remember Murdoch issued a pledge to us not to fire the editor as he stepped into the elevator on the fifth floor of the Voice’s offices on University Place and by the time he stepped out on the ground floor the editor had already been dismissed, as if by osmosis and Murdoch’s man was settling into the editorial chair.

The only reason why Murdoch might respect the Journal’s independence, at least in the opinion pages, is that the views expressed there are even more rabid than his own, and perhaps Murdoch savors the possibility that one day he might call up Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor, and hint that he might moderate his tone.

The Journal’s editorial stance of fanatic neo-connery was established by the late Robert Bartley from the mid-70s onward, and his pages bulged with every mad fantasy of the cold war lobby. (I did an enjoyable ten year stint on these same pages through the 1980s as the token left guest columnist, barking every three weeks at the political and corporate elites from my kennel on the op ed page.) Bartley led the charge against effete liberalism, and since by the late 70s American liberalism had thoroughly lost its nerve and really was effete, Bartley carried the day, by far the most influential editorial page editor in American journalism. More than its sometimes excellent reporting, Bartley gave the Journal its high profile in Washington as well as on Wall Street.

From the moment Murdoch made his famous $60 a share offer the actual sale has not been an edifying sight. But then, a Gadarene-like stampede for money seldom is. The final sale was consummated when Murdoch agreed to throw in a sweetener – as much as $40 million — for the bankers and lawyers standing at the Bancroft family elbow and, with supposed dispassion, advising them what to do.

Merrill Lynch, urging the Bancrofts to sell, is promised $18.5 million for this wise counsel which, derisive commentators have suggested, may not have been entirely objective.

Analysts of the media industry have turned out thousands of words about the synergies and kindred virtues consequent upon Murdoch’s successful bid. Maybe so. In such takeovers, things seldom go according to plan. But for now Murdoch has carried the day, acquiring for a monstrous sum an over-praised newspaper in poor straits.

Call it his revenge for the story the Journal ran about Murdoch’s Chinese wife Wendi Deng in November, 2000, methodically detailing the romantic liaisons that helped her her to the United States, and ultimately to a very powerful position in the Murdoch empire at her husband’s side, particularly in assisting in Murdoch’s business relationships with the People’s Republic. The piece was not unflattering to Ms Deng’s achievements, but also one that Murdoch would not forget or forgive. During the recent sale six Journal staffers in the paper’s Chinese bureau signed a public letter expressing fears that Murdoch’s commercial interests would compromise the paper’s reporting on China. Murdoch is unlikely to forget or forgive that either. This is a saga for Dumas or Balzac.The

The Politics of Hillary

One of Chicago’s top Republican fund-raisers, Terry Duffy, has just announced that he’s endorsing Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the 2008 election.

He’s the executive chairman of the entity formed by the 2007 merger of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), which respectively were the largest and second largest derivatives exchanges in the U.S.

Duffy says Mrs Clinton “understands the important role that financial markets play in our global economy as well as the economic opportunities and risk management benefits these critical markets create for all.”

It’s true that Mrs C knows a bit about “risk management”.

Let’s say you want to turn $1,000 into $100,000 by trading in cattle futures. That’s risky. You might lose a bundle. On the other hand, you might manage your risk prudently by using as your commodities broker a man with close connections to an immensely powerful agribusiness eager to bring financial benefit and hence a feeling of profound gratitude and obligation to Mrs C and her husband Mr C, at that time inhabiting the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas. That’s risk management.

Obama: Worrisome Signs of Sanity Imperil His Bid

Obama’s in trouble with the pundits. First he said in the You Tube debate that he would be prepared to meet with Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Fidel Castro to hash over problems face to face. The pundits promptly whacked him for demonstrating “inexperience”.

Experienced leaders order the CIA to murder such men.

Now Obama has even fiercer fire by saying he would not use nuclear weapons “in any circumstance” to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama told AP Thursday, adding after a pause, “involving civilians.” Then he quickly added, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.” (For more on Obama and nuclear weapons see Sherwood Ross’ story in this weekend’s edition of CounterPunch.)

I’m beginning to respect this man. He displays sagacity well beyond the norm for candidates seeking the Oval Office. He realizes, if only in mid-sentence, that when you drop a nuclear bomb, it will kill civilians. He also realizes that strafing the Hindu Kush with thermonuclear devices in the hopes of nailing Osama Bin Laden is a foolish way to proceed.

Once again he is being flayed for his “inexperience”, first and foremost by Hillary Clinton, the risk taker.

It’s always been part of the hazing ritual inflicted by the pundit class on presidential candidates in America – particularly women –to get them to admit that they are entirely ready to drop nuclear bombs or launch nuclear missiles and thus kill millions of people.

I vividly remember Sen. Harold Hughes of Iowa, a great man, being asked on a Sunday show years ago whether he was ready to run for the nomination. He answered, “When I tell you that if as President I was told that the Russians had launched a nuclear strike, and that missiles were speeding towards America, I would order that we not launch nuclear missiles in retaliation, you will understand that I am not a candidate for the presidential nomination.”

In other words Hughes was saying correctly that since he wasn’t a deranged mass murderer he could not possibly qualify as presidential timber.

The Politics of Pain

“Pain starts to spread as state shuts its wallet…” (Los Angeles Times headline, August 3, 2007.)

“The budget standoff is forcing California to cease funding hundreds of health-and child-care providers. Some are hanging by a thread.” (Los Angeles Times subhead, August 3, 2007.)How about “The budget standoff is forcing California to cease funding highway construction, or prison construction, or subsidies for poison spray programs, or SWAT munition enhancements, or …

Nah. Stick it to the kids.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.