08/01/2007 02:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over the Cliff With Rupe

Is Rupert Murdoch good or bad for The Wall Street Journal? That's the
burning question. Today's WSJ editorial assures us, "No sane
businessman pays a premium of 67% over the market price for an asset
he intends to ruin." Well, nobody has said he intends to ruin it. To
use a favorite word of the WSJ editorial board, that's a

Rupe simply intends to run the Journal the way he wants. He has said
so himself -- emphatically. No sane businessman pays $5 billion for an
asset and does otherwise. Which is no good for the independence of the
WSJ news department. I speak from experience. Once upon a time I
worked for a newspaper he took over -- the Chicago Sun-Times. He
started it on its downhill slide. Downhill? Ha. He drove it over a

Personally, I had no cause to complain. He leafed through the paper
page by page, I was told by an eye witness, and stopped at my Sunday
"Hanging Out" column. He read it, pointed to it, and said he wanted
"more of that." Which is why, in addition to Sundays, I suddenly had a
column on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This suited me fine. I even
got along with Charles Wilson -- then the deputy editor of The Times
of London
, later its editor -- who was temporarily installed as the
Sun-Times editor in chief. It was only afterward, when one of
Murdoch's chief Australian henchman, Frank Devine, replaced Wilson as
the permanent editor that I resigned (following an argument about a
new assignment to write a team column modeled on the NY Post's Page
Six -- but that's another story).

The Sun-Times is not the Journal and never was. When I worked there,
however, it was a really fine daily filled with first-class writing
and reporting and a steady diet of major investigative series. Many
reporters and editors got out. Not all. Staffers like lifelong
Chicagoans Zay Smith, the late Bill Newman and Henry Kisor stayed --
as did others like John Schulian, who remained for a while, and Roger
Ebert, who was already a Sun-Times institution -- because they refused
to flee to the Tribune or couldn't or had nowhere else to go if they
wanted to remain in their hometown. Mike Royko did eventually cross
the street, despite his vow that he never would. But that, too, is
another story.

Will the staff dissolve at the Journal? Different paper, different
times. But I have no doubt same old Rupe, contrary to the opinion of
old Sun-Times hand. Some folks will be elevated, others
ignored -- and many will flee while the fleeing is good or not so
good. "I expect the Journal will become even more a place of favorites
and outcasts," a longtime WSJ reporter says.

A few marquee names will get more dough and some freedom.
They'll be promoted on Fox TV, etc., while those with nowhere else to
go will slave on, pressed to churn out more and complain less. Those
in the middle will flee when they can. Probably quite a few will leave
journalism, because what's the point if it isn't fun and means

I don't think RM cares about any particular staffers at WSJ, but it
seems possible that, to the extent the current regime under the very
ambitious and generally respected Marcus [Brauchli, the managing
editor,] stays intact, they will want to keep people they like in
place rather than watch an exodus that will both make it harder to run
the newspaper and prove the critics were right about the instant
diminution of the Journal's reputation. Once RM's crew insinuate
themselves throughout the hierarchy, such
attitudes will doubtless change.

Better believe it. And that's no canard.