Only three months into his purchase of Dow Jones and its Wall Street Journal, the Cheshire Cat's grin has disappeared from Rupert Murdoch. If you didn't look fast enough you might have missed it, but last week the wolf showed his teeth.
The surprise is what took three months?
When the deal was negotiated, Murdoch had removed all Dow Jones's wariness by warmly explaining, as CNBC reported, that "any concerns about corporate meddling in the Journal's news coverage are unwarranted."
Tosh, who would have thought otherwise?
(His publications and satellite TV in England and Australia don't count because those are in other countries. All complaints are easily dismissed, just like the thousands of employees.)
You have to wonder about the business insight of a financial institution that trusts the word of Rupert Murdoch when closing a deal. If the credulity of Dow Jones has suffered that much, perhaps it's best that took the money and ran.
So, what's this all about?
When the Bancroft family sold out to News Corp. last August, the family was to name a director to the News Corp. board. This is a big deal, since corporate boards provide oversight and governance to ensure everything is handled appropriately. With the historic reputation of all Dow Jones properties, such monitoring is significant. Indeed, such protection was one of the stumbling blocks to the sale. But Rupert Murdoch promised. And the Bancroft family said, "Good enough for me!"
Crack media merger expert James Owers agreed. "The notion that Murdoch will trash the Journal and put nude models on the front page is just silly,"
The Bancroft family is entitled to add a seat to the News Corp. board, and last Wednesday it was confirmed that their outside, protective director is about to be named.
One problem first.
The Bancroft family couldn't decide who to select. Arguing amongst themselves, they actually missed the deadline. Not to worry, though, because Rupert Murdoch helped out - and made the Bancroft family outside director choice himself.
Hold on, it gets worse.
Oh, sure, he could have extended the deadline, but then he didn't have to dismantle the British press union. But when you get an opportunity like that, how can you pass it up?
Remember, this is to protect the family's ancestral interests on the News Corp. board. And the interests of shareholders. An overseer of the labyrinthine world of corporate governance, monitoring everything.
The person Rupert Murdoch is considering naming is Natalie Bancroft.
Who, you ask, is Natalie Bancroft? Certainly, coming from the Bancroft family, she must be steeped with business acumen up the wazoo, with trunkloads of MBAs and a financial wizard. After all, you can't be too careful when keeping an eye on Rupert Murdoch and the News Corp. empire on behalf of your family, shareholders and the integrity of Dow Jones.
Natalie Bancroft is a 27-year-old who has studied opera and lives in Europe. Honest. That's it. She will be the only woman on the board. (Apparently, she just beat out Madeleine Albright and Margaret Thatcher.) Shockingly, Ms. Bancroft was unavailable for comment.
This is one step above naming your kid, who took a junior year abroad backpacking, to oversee the Dick Cheney.
Bizarre, amusing and appalling as this upcoming appointment is, it almost doesn't compare to Rupert Murdoch's justification of it.
"They're a funny family, and they couldn't decide between themselves who to nominate, and that's about all I can say," Murdoch blissfully told Reuters, seemingly with a straight face. "So we went through it and by a process of elimination, speaking to people, we chose Natalie, and we're looking forward to having her as a colleague."
I'll bet! Who wouldn't?? If meetings ever get slow, she can whip off a few verses of "O Mio Babbino Caro." It's like inviting Stevie Wonder to guard the Hope diamond.
"There are no training wheels in boardrooms and she is supposed to be up and running on day one," Nell Minow told Reuters. One of the leading experts on corporate governance as co-founder of the Corporate Library, Minow is wary about Ms. Bancroft's qualifications. "It may be that she is a quick study and she is going to throw herself into this and learn all about accounting and SEC filings. It may be that they put her on the committee that plans the Christmas party and call it a day."
When the Bancroft family sold Dow Jones, a spokesman told CNN, "It is our most fervent hope that in the years to come, The Wall Street Journalwill continue to enjoy, and deserve, the universal admiration and respect in which it is held all over the world"
Hope all you want. But you don't get to sleep with the devil and wake up an angelic virgin. When you invite the Fox into your chicken coop, you have no one to blame but yourselves when the eggs are all smashed to bits.