People who sold Wall Street Journal to Murdoch suddenly feel bad

The Bancrofts make the belated discovery that the Australian media mogul is amoral

By Alex Pareene
Published July 13, 2011 9:10PM (EDT)
News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch attends the eG8 forum in Paris, in this file photo taken May 24, 2011.  (Reuters)
News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch attends the eG8 forum in Paris, in this file photo taken May 24, 2011. (Reuters)

Well, would you look at that, the News of the World scandal has made the Bancroft family, the former controllers of the Wall Street Journal, regret selling their newspaper to Rupert Murdoch:

"If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against" the Murdoch bid, said Christopher Bancroft, a member of the family which controlled Dow Jones & Company, publishers of The Wall Street Journal. Bancroft said the breadth of allegations now on the public record "would have been more problematic for me. I probably would have held out." Bancroft had sole voting control of a trust that represented 13 percent of Dow Jones shares in 2007 and served on the Dow Jones Board.

Lisa Steele, another family member on the Board, said that "it would have been harder, if not impossible," to have accepted Murdoch's bid had the facts been known. "It's complicated," Steele said, and "there were so many factors" in weighing a sale. But she said "the ethics are clear to me -- what's been revealed, from what I've read in the Journal, is terrible; it may even be criminal."

Elisabeth Goth, a Bancroft family member not on the Board who had long advocated change at Dow Jones, expressed similar sentiments. Asked if she would have favored a sale to Murdoch in 2007 knowing what she does today, she said, "my answer is no."

The Bancroft family, which had controlled Dow Jones, publisher of the prestigious Wall Street Journal, since the turn of the 20th century, sold the company to Rupert Murdoch in 2007. The phone-hacking scandal was first revealed, for the record, in 2006.

The Bancroft family's hand-wringing over the sale of their family legacy to the world's most cartoonishly evil media mogul was clearly phony at the time. They wanted out of the newspaper business. Murdoch wanted to crush the New York Times, and he prefers buying old newspapers to launching new ones. Murdoch was the only party interested in giving the Bancrofts more than a pittance for a newspaper in 2007. His promises of editorial independence were understood by all to be a means by which the members of the Bancrofts could assuage their conscience, and nothing more.

(One member of the family -- Bill Cox III -- admits that while he thinks Murdoch is an amoral, lawless creep, $60 a share wouldn't have been turned down under any circumstances.)

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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