“I have no indication that any of them would know what goes into Page 1,” said one Journal staffer, who added the board should have included “people who really understand news coverage.”
“To put Ted Olson on the board,” said another Journal staffer, “everyone in the newsroom was like, ‘What the fuck!’”
Soon after, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Burton, who works out of the Chicago bureau, sent a list of alternate candidates he’d compiled with several staffers to Christopher Bancroft, a family member who’s been leading the charge against the deal. Journalistic heavyweights, according to a Journal staffer, made the in-house list: Joe Lelyveld, John Carroll, Gene Roberts, Ben Bradlee, Michael Gartner, Glynn Mapes and Byron Calame. Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, according to multiple Journal staffers, was mentioned in the newsroom rumor mill as a fifth candidate, though Mr. Brokaw, through a spokesperson, said he was not “a candidate for the editorial independence board” and “any speculation comes as a complete surprise.”
A Journal staffer said that former publisher Peter Kann was instrumental in the family’s choice for the editorial oversight committee, though Mr. Kann, presented with the list of names that had leaked, said, “I don’t even know who the final list is.”
When asked about the lack of journalistic experience in the candidates so far reported, Mr. Kann said he was not in a position to answer.
“They were not my choices,” Mr. Kann said of the four candidates.
The ‘Chinese Wall’
“What these names show is how from the instant this board takes effect, it will be a meaningless, impotent institution,” said one Journal staffer. “Even before it gets started, you can corrupt it by putting the wrong people on it.”
In fact, the committee theoretically has vast power over the company, if not power to resist the wishes of Mr. Murdoch.
Meeting quarterly, or possibly more if the committee decides, the group’s decisions would be made on a majority basis. For instance, only the committee has the power to appoint or remove The Journal’s managing editor and editorial page editor—the two highest editorial offices at the newspaper—and the Dow Jones Newswires’ managing editor.
Presently the two Journal offices are held by Mr. Brauchli and Mr. Gigot, both of whom have in turn been instrumental in advising the Bancroft family on how to structure The Journal’s independence agreement.
“There was very little interaction between the editorial board and the family,” said a former editorial board member of the arrangement under the Bancrofts.
Would Mr. Murdoch be more “active”?
“It’s hard to be less active than the Bancrofts,” the board member said.
But the Journal has not always been inactive on the topic of Rupert Murdoch—though much of that criticism dates to before Mr. Gigot took over the editorial board.
Tunku Varadarajan wrote critically of Mr. Murdoch’s business dealings in China. Specifically, he took aim at the current heir apparent, James Murdoch, for a speech given at The Milken Institute.
“A master practitioner of the corporate kowtow,” he railed, saying that Mr. Murdoch had taught his son “perfectly in the craft of craven submission to the Chinese regime.”
More recently, editorial board member Holman Jenkins Jr. took a look at Mr. Murdoch’s career in a November 2005 “weekend interview.” (Mr. Jenkins did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment).