Former New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines believes the “unthinkable” is now possible — News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch buying the Times.
Writing in Portfolio.com, Raines recalled a conversation he had with Murdoch in 2002 in which Murdoch advised Raines on how to conduct a “newspaper war” with the Wall Street Journal, which Murdoch recently bought.
“You ought to hit them where they live,” Murdoch said. “Go after hard business news and beat them on their strength.”
Raines observes: “It seems obvious to me that Murdoch now plans to do to the Times what he was advising me to do to the Journal. He will spend whatever it takes to undermine the Times’ standing as America’s leading general-interest newspaper.”
But Raines said his “biggest fear” is that Murdoch, or some other “unsuitable purchaser,” will then buy the Times by pressuring the Sulzberger family, which controls most of the company’s voting stock.
Times Co. stock recently dropped below $15 a share, down from a peak of $53 in 2002, as the company’s financial troubles have mounted.
“This situation creates a psychological environment that Murdoch can exploit if his plan of pouring money into the Journal has the intended effect of keeping the Times Co.’s stock price down,” Raines writes.
The Sulzberger family’s anxiety over the stock price, the Times’ financial woes, and the “emergence of Murdoch as the most powerful individual in mass communications” could “bring us to the point where the unthinkable is possible.”
Raines believes that a Murdoch takeover of the Times, “our last independent national newspaper,” would be a “disaster for the trustworthy reporting on which our civic life depends.”
He adds that a Murdoch associate once told him that Murdoch said about the Times: “I’d love to buy it to close it.” Said Raines: “I believe the first part of that quote is true, the latter part a joke.”
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