Rupert’s Big Teeth

cover 073007 Rupert’s Big TeethIn the days after June 26, some staff writers at The Wall Street Journal circulated via e-mail the famous 1938 photograph of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain holding aloft the document that sealed his impotent peace accord with Adolf Hitler.

“Peace For Our Time” had been Chamberlain’s words at the podium, less than two years before the first bombs of the Blitz struck London. The photograph ricocheted around Journal in-boxes with the caption: “Michael Elefante displays agreement with Mr. Murdoch ensuring the Journal’s ‘integrity for our time.’”

The joke was about Mr. Elefante’s triumphant declaration that the board of Dow Jones Inc., which owns the journal, had reached an agreement with Rupert Murdoch. If there was to be a sale of Dow Jones to News Corp., a special independence committee would protect the independence of The Wall Street Journal from Mr. Murdoch.

The comparison of Mr. Elefante to Chamberlain is hyperbolic. But to hear staffers at The Wall Street Journal tell it, the newspaper right now is thick with patriots and traitors, collaborationists and insurrectionists, appeasers, double agents and profiteers, all gearing up for the moment when the great old institution of The Journal becomes a subject of the Australian-American media empire that brought us Page Six.

More constructive than the distribution of the Chamberlain photograph were efforts by lots of Journal staffers to come up with ideas for who would sit on the panel meant to ensure the newspaper’s continued independence after a News Corp. buyout.

The “special committee,” as it’s been called, was to be comprised of “distinguished community and journalistic leaders” who are independent of both News Corp. and the Bancroft family—but who were to meet the approval of both—according to the text of the editorial agreement.

In general, since news of the News Corp. takeover broke, the Bancroft family has consulted managing editor Marcus Brauchli, publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, editorial page editor Paul Gigot, and former Dow Jones chairman and CEO Peter Kann, among others, for advice on how to make a deal with Mr. Murdoch and preserve the newspaper’s editorial independence once they had left it behind.

“No asset is more important to The Journal than its editorial independence, including the freedom to decide what and whom The Journal covers, how and in what media, and with what resources,” Mr. Brauchli said in a statement last month. “Our integrity is the wellspring of our value to readers, and we’re grateful that both the Bancroft family and Rupert Murdoch appreciate this and are focused on preserving it. I will do everything I can to ensure that The Journal’s news department remains independent and vital.”

Less than a month later, The Journal itself broke the story of four of the names under serious considerations for roles on that powerful committee.

There was the attorney Theodore Olson, who had served in the Reagan administration and later in the George W. Bush administration (after successfully representing him in Bush v. Gore). There was the conservative writer Thomas Bray, former Tribune president Jack Fuller, and current M.I.T. president Susan Hockfield.