But Brauchli was climbing a tree whose roots were weakening and whose branches were beginning to decay: Dow Jones’s profits plunged in the years after 2001. On April 17, 2007, he received two momentous pieces of information: his colleague Nikhil Deogun, who was taking over the Journal’s Money & Investing section, informed him that Murdoch had just made his bid for Dow Jones. (Brauchli and Deogun did not break the story; CNBC reported it first.) The same afternoon, Brauchli learned from Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz that he would succeed Paul Steiger as managing editor.
It was strange luck. For two decades Brauchli had painstakingly constructed an ordered universe in his professional life, but Murdoch’s arrival at Dow Jones plunged him into months of stress and uncertainty. Brauchli’s core predicament was that in Murdoch’s eyes he embodied the values of the old Wall Street Journal. Murdoch had contempt for some of those values—starting with the paper’s emphasis on finely crafted feature writing and long-form narrative journalism built on thorough, time-consuming reporting. Sarah Ellison writes that shortly after News Corp.’s bid for Dow Jones became public information, Brauchli lamented to a friend: “I work my whole career to get this job and now I’m working for Murdoch?”
Did Brauchli ever consider resigning when Murdoch took over? His friends say no. Instead, he committed himself to working with Murdoch in the hope that he could achieve a convergence between his interests and Murdoch’s—that is to say, a Journal that was faster and more news-oriented, but still imbued with the old values. We’ll never know how far Brauchli might have gone to satisfy Murdoch’s ordinances at the Journal. Ellison writes: He “spent hours with Murdoch, attempting to charm him.” A seasoned media reporter who observed Murdoch’s conquest of the Journal takes a less charitable view: “Brauchli stuck his nose up Murdoch’s ass.”
Brauchli knew that the Australian press lord brandished the scalps of editors and publishers whom he vanquished: Dorothy Schiff, Harold Evans, Clay Felker, and many others. But his friends unanimously agree that Brauchli, who has always been an indefatigable networker and social animal, thought he would be the exception to the rule; he believed he could seduce Murdoch. People close to Brauchli also speculate that Murdoch’s confidant, Robert Thomson—with whom Brauchli had an edgy, competitive friendship, the contours of which are nicely captured by Ellison—led Marcus to believe he had a realistic chance of survival under the News Corp. regime.
That was an illusion. Brauchli resigned under pressure in April 2008. That Murdoch would expel the editor was precisely what certain members of the Bancroft family had feared. That is why, as a condition of the sale, they had insisted that the media baron accept a five-person “Special Committee,” whose members were given, through a legal document filed with the SEC, “rights of approval” over the hiring or removal of the Journal’s managing editor. (Brauchli himself played a major role in drafting the editorial independence agreement that established the special committee.) But as Dean Starkman wrote on The Audit, CJR’s online business desk: “The agreement . . . was flawed in that it anticipated, if not actually required that the Journal’s managing editor would want to protect his or her autonomy, at least enough to file a complaint.” Brauchli chose not to file a complaint. The committee first received the news of Brauchli’s ouster from Murdoch himself. In a phone call to one committee member, Murdoch purred that Brauchli is “a very nice fellow. It’s all been done in a very civilized way. Thanks so much. Not at all. Bye.” Brauchli left Dow Jones with $6.4 million, a package negotiated by Bill Clinton’s lawyer, Robert Barnett.
Why didn’t Brauchli file a complaint with the committee? Brauchli has said that he interpreted the purpose of the committee as protecting the integrity of the paper, and as he told The Washington Post (July 8, 2008): “I never saw any evidence that the owners had tried to impose ideological and commercial agendas on the news coverage.” He went on to say: “What was important was the Journal, not me—that the editorial integrity be preserved, not that my job be preserved. Fighting for my job would have been mostly selfish and undermined the fight to maintain quality journalism.”
Not all of his colleagues shared that view. A veteran Journal reporter says: “When Marcus finally did resign, and left with his wheelbarrow of money, it was not a resignation like Jay Harris’s in San Jose. [In 2001, Harris resigned from the San Jose Mercury News, rather than implement draconian cuts ordered by Knight Ridder.] A lot of people at the Journal noticed that. There was no statement of principle from Marcus. There was disquiet in some sectors of the newsroom.”