Put a Cork in the Whine

Ahh, the vintage whines of summer—so fun to sample—so easy to appreciate.

First, there was Katie Couric and her pals in New York magazine complaining about everything from critics taking potshots during her rookie season as anchor of the CBS Evening News, to the network's over-selling of her arrival, to having to fight with “the old-boys club” to get her stories on the air, to the news division's relatively scarce resources compared with her old NBC home. There was even a knock on the filthy bathrooms in the news division's notoriously shabby Broadcast Center.

No doubt some of what was said has merit. And of course, we all love to hear our household names dish. But we have to question the purpose of airing out the laundry. When you're getting $15 million, you're not doing yourself any favors to make those comments in public. It's more, shall we say, refined to remain silent. Is Couric trying to drive viewership, even as she drives her colleagues further away?

As misguided as Couric's comments seem, she's got nothing on certain members of the Bancroft family that controls the Dow Jones Co. The family's crown jewel, the Wall Street Journal, is long coveted, to the tune of $5 billion large, by Rupert Murdoch. For weeks, this dance—perhaps the Hustle?—has been going on between the family and Murdoch to put certain strictures in the deal that would keep the News Corp. chairman from meddling with the Journal's storied editorial independence. Meanwhile, those Bancroft family members who fear that Murdoch would turn their paper into Fox News, the New York Post or worse have been looking hither and yon for other buyers—as if selling had been their intent in the first place.

What garbage. A bunch of trust-fund brats, who let one of the greatest franchises in journalism be mismanaged for years, should grow up and realize that, if they want to cash in their birthright for some billions, the buyers are going to do exactly what they want with their prized toys.

Then there's Murdoch himself. Last week, caught off guard by an Associated Press reporter at Herb Allen's annual Sun Valley summer camp for media bigwigs, Murdoch showed his waning patience with the rich kids who don't want to part with their playthings even at the stupidly robust premium he is willing to pay.

“They keep changing their minds,” he said, clearly frustrated with the dilly-dallying and sounding more than a tad whiney. What does he expect, dealing with the entitled scions? Murdoch, too, may have been born rich, but he's a different breed, always willing to roll up his own sleeves and do the hard work of growing the family empire.

I know Murdoch is anxious to get the deal done. In October, News Corp. launches the Fox Business Channel and having the Journal in the family would make the long hard slog of competing against CNBC less taxing. Still, Rupert, as the British say, “stop your whinging.”

Perhaps Rupert, Katie and the Bancrofts would be wise to learn the lessons of a famed to-the-manor-born budding philosopher: “When you reach a crossroad in life, it doesn't matter how we got there; it's what we do next after we got there. Usually, you arrive there by adversity, and it is then and only then that we find out what we're truly made of. It's a process, a gift and a journey.” Thank you, Paris Hilton, for those sage words from your prison diary.

All these media stars should take the high road when things aren't going their way. Their whines tend to carry a certain unpleasant, familiar bouquet.

E-mail comments to bcrobins@reedbusiness.com