Meet the London Times Masthead, Circa 1981

There was also a less reckless, scoop-crazed atmosphere, according to Mr. McCrystal, and fewer of the old-fashioned perks of the gentlemanly trades: “Drinking at lunchtime was banned,” he said.

The nerve, Rup!

“Even if Rupert Murdoch volunteers his arms and his legs, his name—and the organizations with which he has been associated, and the damaging influence they have had on American and British society—should be enough” not to make a deal, said Mr. McCrystal.

“I think that they should link up with the Financial Times, with Pearson,” said Mr. McCrystal, discussing a recent development in the seven-week saga. He cited the Financial Times’ “independence,” “fine writing and fearlessness.”

But should Mr. Murdoch, who may wish to appoint like-minded staff, be held to standards unlike any newspaper proprietor?

Mr. Berry said that the notion of an owner appointing staff that share viewpoints is “nothing surprising in most of journalism.”

However: “There was supposed to be a special arrangement” with the Times deal, “and it was rather naïve of us to believe you could have such a special arrangement—especially with Rupert Murdoch.”

“He can, and will, meet editorial independence much of the time, because he doesn’t interfere on a day-to-day basis,” said Lord Bernard Donoughue, who was an assistant editor at The Times in 1981-82. “But, he interferes when it matters to him. That’s why he got rid of Harry and me. He knew we wouldn’t necessarily do what we were told. But there are always people that are happy to.”

“The lesson for the people at The Journal,” he added, “is that all those with ambitions and no principles may have a more prosperous future under Murdoch.”

Lord Donoughue said that his only interaction with News Corp. since was through his position in the House of Lords, in 1996. Then, he helped defeat a bill that would have relegated several major sporting events to subscription networks, such as Mr. Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting.

“A representative complained to me, ‘You just cost Rupert $50 million,’” Mr. Donoughue recalled. “It would have been a lot cheaper for him to pay my contractual redundancy.”

“My recommendation to the Bancrofts is to tell Murdoch to get lost, if they believe in anything they say about their traditions,” said Bruce Page, who worked at The Times a few years prior to the takeover, and later penned The Murdoch Archipelago, a rather unfriendly biography. “They can’t make a bad journalist good.”

“When you talk about journalistic independence, it doesn’t mean anything to him,” said Mr. Page. “This guy wouldn’t be a journalist except by accident of birth.”

Mr. Page likened today’s coverage of the Dow Jones saga, and talk of Mr. Murdoch changing his stripes, to when he covered the 1968 Presidential election.

Back then, he asked a veteran newspaper editor about the media buzz about the “new Nixon”—a more statesmen-like nominee, far removed from McCarthy and Checkers. “Son,” Mr. Page recalled the editors telling him, “there is no new Nixon. What there is, is the old Nixon, a little older.”

“Rupert’s a little older,” Mr. Page said, “but there’s no new Rupert.”

—additional reporting by Julia Heming

 * An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported this fact.