For a little over a month, The Wall Street Journal has been in a quiet feud with the cable business channel CNBC—and it’s not because the Journal’s parent company is about to get a new stepdad in News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch.
In early November, the fashion house Estée Lauder offered the Journal and Women’s Wear Daily an advance tip that the lagging company’s chief executive, William Lauder, planned to relinquish his title within two years, under pressure from investors.
According to a spokesperson at Estée Lauder, The Journal and WWD agreed to run their semi-exclusives on Friday, Nov. 9. It’s a huge story for WWD, which follows the fortunes of Estée Lauder daily; and for The Journal, the opportunity to break big fashion-industry news rated a B1 placement.
But the day before stories were to run, The Journal forwarded an advance copy of its piece to CNBC. A CNBC anchor, whom nobody interviewed by The Observer would name, then sent the piece to a Lauder executive’s BlackBerry, the Lauder spokesperson said.
Irate at seeing the story in circulation before the agreed-upon embargo date, the Lauder public-relations department (which said it has “great respect for CNBC and The Journal”) gave WWD permission to jump the schedule and publish the news on its Web site just after 6 p.m., beating The Journal, a WWD spokesperson said.
The story originally made its way to CNBC according to a 10-year-old arrangement between the newspaper and the cable network. The paper sends out a “sked”—a detailed lineup of stories that appear in the next day’s paper—and occasionally full stories to a Journal newsperson who serves as a liaison between the two news outfits. In exchange, Journal stories, and the reporters who write them, get airtime on the network.
The night that the semi-scoop was lost, the paper was throwing a going-away party for outgoing editor Paul Steiger at the Morgan Library on Madison Avenue. Editors and staffers there were openly grumbling about CNBC’s behavior and the future of the relationship between the two news organizations: There are still five years left on the contract that seals the deal between them.
“It was a huge screw-up,” a Journal staffer said about the leak from CNBC to Lauder. “If that had been done here, that’s a firing offense for a Journal reporter.”
Since the Estée Lauder incident, according to two sources familiar with the relationship, The Journal has cut back significantly on the amount of final copy it volunteers to the cable network in advance. (One of those sources said that the cable network can still get copies of stories if they request them specifically.)
CNBC, meanwhile, contends that all problems are now resolved.
“We continue to work well with The Wall Street Journal,” said Brian Steel, spokesman for CNBC.
A spokesman for The Wall Street Journal declined to comment.
This isn’t the first run-in Dow Jones has had with CNBC in recent months. Back in October, Dow Jones pulled ads for CNBC on its MarketWatch Web site and wsj.com the day that the Fox Business Network debuted, according to a story in The New York Times. A Fox spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that News Corp. had nothing to do with that decision.
And of course, the folks at Dow Jones have had a lot on their minds lately: On Dec. 13, News Corp. will take over for Dow Jones, putting The Journal and rival Fox Business under the same corporate umbrella.
What Rupert Murdoch’s plans are for the Journal’s ongoing relationship with his new business network’s chief television competitor, nobody seems to know.