Journalism in the Public Interest

Bancroft Family Members Express Regrets at Selling Wall Street Journal to Murdoch

If we knew now what we could have known then, we would have blocked deal, several say.


Christopher Bancroft walks through downtown Boston, Mass., on July 23, 2007, following a meeting of Bancroft family members to discuss selling their majority stake in Dow Jones & Co. to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (Neal Hamberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This story was co-published with The Guardian.

A number of key members of the family which controlled The Wall Street Journal say they would not have agreed to sell the prestigious daily to Rupert Murdoch if they had been aware of News International's conduct in the phone-hacking scandal at the time of the deal.

"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 comments by family members in interviews with ProPublica came as the crisis engulfing Murdoch's News Corporation threatened to spread to the U.S. with two senators calling for an investigation into whether the company broke U.S. laws over the phone hacking scandal.

Asked for his reaction to a report in the Guardian that Les Hinton, Murdoch's appointee as Dow Jones CEO and Journal publisher, may have testified untruthfully to a parliamentary committee, Christopher Bancroft replied that if the report proves accurate, Hinton "probably ought be moved aside, but that's not my business anymore."

News Corporation's deal to buy the Journal was sealed in August 2007, six months after the royal editor of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, was jailed for using a private detective to access voicemails left for members of the royal household.

But News International insisted that hacking was a problem confined to a single "rogue reporter" at the paper. It was not until July 2009 that the Guardian revealed the practice was more widespread and that Murdoch had secretly paid out more than £1m to settle cases brought by other hacking victims.

The Wall Street Journal is the top-selling daily newspaper in the United States and a brand with global prominence. Founded in 1889, it long dominated American business publishing, becoming the country's first national newspaper. It routinely ranked in surveys as America's most trusted print publication.

The Bancroft family owned Dow Jones since 1902 and controlled it as a publicly traded company since 1963. Murdoch's bid was economically attractive. He offered $60 a share, a 67 percent premium, $2.25 billion over the market price the day his offer was announced, at a time when newspaper share prices had been flagging for more than two years. Within 14 months after the deal closed, in early 2009, News Corp. had to write down the value of its $5.6 billion purchase by $2.8 billion.

The sale was contentious. Family members questioned Murdoch's journalistic practices and insisted on appointment of an independent panel to help safeguard the paper's ethics. And there was plenty of negative press in the U.S. about Murdoch at the time of the deal in 2007, although nothing to compare with the recent revelations.

Michael Elefante, a partner at Boston law firm Hemenway & Barnes, longtime counsel to the family, trustee of numerous trusts and also then a member of the Dow Jones Board, did not return messages seeking comment. The fourth family representative on the Dow Jones Board, Leslie Hill, consistently opposed the Murdoch bid, and resigned from the Board in protest just before the deal was completed. (Hill has been a donor to ProPublica.)

Not all members of the Bancroft family believe the revelations would have changed the outcome. Bill Cox III, long allied with Goth within the family in seeking alternatives to management by Dow Jones, said in an interview that he "probably would have thought twice about it but probably would have sold."

Cox said he is "happy about the price we got" for Dow Jones. "I'm pretty happy being out of the newspaper business altogether." Asked if he would have accepted a lower price from another bidder given the phone hacking, he said, "I think $60 was the right price."

Cox did say, however, that he had been following the story closely in the Australian media during a trip there and that he is very concerned about what he has learned recently about the Journal's new owners.

"Reading all this makes me sick to my stomach," he said. In a subsequent email, he went even further: Rupert Murdoch, he wrote, "thinks he is completely above the law as he always has." Cox added, "We did a deal with the devil and it really saddens me [that] the editorial of this quasi public trust that has been on the vanguard of world journalism for years is not in good hands. That I am really struggling with."

Disclosure note: The author of this story was a longtime Dow Jones executive, before leaving the company in 2004, and wrote a book about former Wall Street Journal editor and Dow Jones CEO Barney Kilgore, which was published in 2009.

Too little, too late. 20/20 hindsight. Shoulda woulda coulda. Use your own cliche.

If it smells like a turd, and it looks like a turd… but, hey, no worries because the money was good!


July 13, 2011, 3:10 p.m.

Hilarious article. I’m sure that this goes down well during cocktail hour at the clan’s country club (memberships paid for by sale of their DJ/WSJ ownership stakes).

Fact is the greater Bancroft family had been milking Dow Jones for years and were deathly afraid their lovely dividend stream was finally in jeopardy. Murdoch not only offered them a way to cash out of a declining industry (which Bill Cox readily admits) but it is completely unfair not to acknowledge that News Corp has actually done a very good job in investing in and improving the paper. (Even Conrad Black—a Murdoch rival—acknowledges this is his FT column today despite lamenting Rupert’s down-market tendencies.)

It’s nice that ProPublica discloses the conflict of a pre-Murdoch DowJones exec writing an article like this ... but this has the distinct odor of sour grapes from the author and the interviewed.

I’m with the fake Howie. The Bancroft family mismanaged Dow Jones, failed to do due diligence and went away happy after receiving an inflated price for the company.  If they think this stuff is relevant, why didn’t they use their ample resources to find out before doing the deal?

Richard Schmidt

July 13, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

Oh please. The owners of the WSJ were unaware of Murdoch’s “ethical problem” (that is, the absence of any ethics at all). Murdoch has been an acknowledged business predator and all around turd for decades. From what planet did they originate?

Murdoch’s attempts to shape financial markets and the political landscape with his monopolistic media empire are far more worrisome than the phone hacking scandal.

And we knew all about that before the WSJ was sold.

Traditional American Democrat

July 13, 2011, 3:28 p.m.

Gosh! Who could have known !?!

what a joke.  It was ok to sell the paper to a hard right-wing megalomanic who sponsors lies and hypocracy to sell his cable “news” network.  But, oh my gosh, do you mean to suggest that tabloids engage in uneithcal behavior?  Shocking.  Just as shocking as the notion that the Bancroft family could give a damn about their legacy.

GREED! is in retreat?

It is obvious that the “News of the World” and the other UK criminal revelations about News Corporation are the tip of the iceberg…

The man and his company have no respect for the facts, the law or democracy. The Bancrofts were driven by greed and their total failure to objectively look at to whom they were selling the family legacy is a travesty. Sadly, we have all suffered the consequences.

David Saltman

July 13, 2011, 3:40 p.m.

They thought his name was Murgatroyd.

I bet without reservation the Fox New Network in the United States is managed in the very same way. These are nothing more than Neocons posing as news channels and its as plain as black and white. Anyone that would say differently is one of them. This is what has happened to journalism and is exaclty what you get when you compromise journalism practices. Journalism has lost all credibility. The Bancrofts were nothing more than greedy right-wing conservatives who sold out to a piece of trash only one step lower then them. I’m sure they are so ashamed. Thats funny as well.


July 13, 2011, 3:44 p.m.

I haven’t looked at the value of the WSJ now vs. then, but the article struck me as planting the seeds for a legal action to un-do the sale based upon fraudulent misrepresentations.  (Especially as I would assume that there had been some mutual assurances sought - and received - about such potential liabilities.)

Stephanie Palmer

July 13, 2011, 3:45 p.m.

The readers are sorry as well.

There will be much more to come and some of it will be in the USA.
The Bancrofts succumbed to the “Money Talks….” syndrome which is only human, I guess.

Chuck Zlatkin

July 13, 2011, 3:50 p.m.


Extra! Extra!

July 13, 2011, 3:50 p.m.

It’s unfortunate that this article is hopelessly biassed, and full disclosure can’t redeem its slant.

That said, the WSJ has gotten much more stridently neo-con since Murdoch took over, which used to be the exclusive province of the editorial pages.  I agree with the previous commentor, that Murdoch has poured enormous amounts of money and resources to build the paper up, and enriched the Bancrofts. 

I find it quite strange that the Bancrofts believe they made a mistake selling the paper to Murdoch based on the voicemail hack scandal.  To the Bancrofts:  how’s Rupert doing with the WSJ?  Are you pleased with the results?  Do you believe there’s a phone hacking scandal at the WSJ?  Hasnt Murdoch increased or maintained circulation while the NYT readership h double digit declines every quarter?

Otherwise, enjoy your vast riches.  You sold a national treasure at the peak of the market before the decline of

How pathetic.  Typical cowardly crony corporatist comment.  Dealing with the devil was fine and dandy at the time, because he offered the money that made these greedy pigs smile.  They had nary a concern about selling their rag to someone that everybody on the planet already knew was a filthy corrupt little, sniveling corporatist thug, at the time of the deal, but now that the filthy disease, Murdoch, has been exposed for what we all knew all along he was, they express regrets.  So what? 

I long for the populist uprising that’s around the corner.  This country, and in fact, the whole civilized world, needs a massive cleansing.

As a former WSJ editor, I don’t know which is more acute – my contempt for Murdoch’s brand of thug journalism or a smug sense of satisfaction that he has performed more or less as you’d expect him to. It was obvious from the moment Murdoch bid for Dow Jones that the angry serf was about to win the manor house (the Bancrofts would never get a better offer), and what followed has been a bit like watching Donald Trump turn Versailles into a casino.

Heike Terrell

July 13, 2011, 4:05 p.m.

I can hardly wait for the repercussions in the US!  It’s about time that someone takes a closer look at Fox’s tight connections with the Republican Party, all instigated and perfected by conservative R. Murdock’s empire! He must think he has all the power in the world and is invincible. It all stinks to high heaven and he definitely needs to be taken down a few notches…or more!


July 13, 2011, 4:20 p.m.

Jim Jaffe and FakeFake,

You assume there was any interest from the Bancrofts in doing due diligence or is any interest in getting back into the newspaper business. Neither is correct.

Almost all of the legacies of the great media owners got out of the business and were glad to have done so. The Sulzbergers haven’t, which may be a reflection of their lack of business acumen. It was only a Carlos Slim bail-out and other financial rescue operations that have prevented the NYT from a spectacular flame-out. Certainly hasn’t been a gang-buster investment vs. a moderately well-managed trust fund.

I’m the odd man out here, but I believe the WSJ has improved since Murdoch’s purchase. I don’t see any compelling evidence of editorial bleed-over from its (refreshingly contrarian) opinion pages. Those that normally do so are using the NYT’s peculiar view of “straight news” reporting as their guidepost. The WSJ today was greater breadth and interest than its predecessor, which is one reason the NYT is and was tremendously unnerved by Murdoch’s purchase.

The real truth is Rupert is a guy who loves newspapers. He loves the chippy and hypercompetitive downmarket stuff more than we in the U.S. (with our AP-wire monopolistic and monochrome local broadsheets) care to admit or want to admire. His love for the medium is hardly justified by the return he and his shareholders earn on them. I, for one, am glad he indulges this hobby because the alternative would be a denuded media ecosystem.

Bancroft is a laugh-and-a-half.

Greedy little pig slurping at the family trough.

He and the family gave up any right to comment when they sold their stake.

The rich are incredibly helpless and remarkably stupid. How would these people have fared if they had not been left enormous wealth from their parents? Their only skill is making excuses and shirking responsibility.

“Steele said, ... “there were so many factors” in weighing a sale.”

Such as the number of digits in front of the decimal point.

Thank you a heck of a lot for this, Bancroft family. So nice to know you have retrospective conscience! Doesn’t do a lot for us little people who no longer have the real Wall Street Journal but have to live with a stinky biased Rupert Murdoch Wall Street Journal. But I’m sure glad to read this and I hope the Bancroft family is enjoying spending all those billions of dollars of Rupert’s money. You will not go to newspaper family heaven with the Sulzbergers or Grahams though.

They took the money and ran.
Surprise, surprise Bancrofts.

Oh hai, the Dow was sold in 2007. The NotW hacking scandal was first reported on in 2006.  On the planet I dwell, 2006 came before 2007.  I expect on the Planet of the Insipidly Wealthy, the years also run in numeric succession. And,  Bancrofts: buyer’s remorse usually doesn’t take five years to develop. Neither does a conscience. It’s not like the amorality of New Corp is so deeply buried. You’d already had eleven years of FoxNews Channel to digest by that point, too. So, even if you’d not heard a speck of news on the hacking, Bancrofts, you’d have all had a heaping helping of the atmospheric viewpoint of the people you were selling your stock exchange to, by 2007.

Karen Peterson

July 13, 2011, 5:06 p.m.

Seriously? Did the Bancroft family( et al) think that Murdoch’s New Of The World was a newspaper of exemplary journalistic integrity and writing when considering selling the WSJ? I am no fan of Rupert Murdoch’s by any means, but this family sold the WSJ for money—plain and simple. So, don’t go crying “Foul!” now that your checks are deposited. The time for ethical queries was in 2007, and a teenager could have Googled enough information on News Corporation and Murdoch’s ethics at that time that would have prevented a sale if ethics and integrity were truly benchmark concerns.So buck up, Bancrofts (and Goths and Coxes), and go back to your lives of affluent leisure.

Wow, Petersons - you 2 must be so tied together, Karen & Sarah, to post the same exact comment, and one of you did it two times!  No form of trolling here!  Nevahh!

Bancrofts distancing themselves from Murdoch, not money, as he descends. They’ve said nothing of the destruction of WSJ to date. That alone tells you their current motive.

Why has pro-publica published this knowing The Guardian is not Rupert’s best friend?

Sorry, but only imbeciles didn’t know that Murdoch and his empire have no ethics whatsoever. The Bancrofts got in bed with the devil, because the money was good. Pretending they didn’t know is ridiculous.

Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield

July 13, 2011, 7:20 p.m.

Hindsight is 20/20. I fear greed and gold are the victors. How very sad. We cried then and now.

Are you kiddin’???? The Bancrofts have now realized that the SOLD the Dow Jones Company and its legacy to Rupert Murdoch - the king of sleeze in Great Britain.  I guess everyone has hit or her price!

Can they undo it?  Can they undo the deal by claiming insanity?  Maybe Murdoch will be found to have broken U.S. laws (no kiddin’ ??) and that could somehow get back what belongs in the hands of U.S. citizens and not a citizen (formerly Australian) who is one only to facilitate adding to his media monopoly.

Murdoch controls and supports extreme views in U.S. politics and government. The disaster over the debt ceiling is a direct result of the support he gives to the crazies on the ultra-right in what used to be the Republican Party. 

Thanks, Bancrofts, for giving Murdoch control of Dow Jones, Barrons, the Wall Street Journal, and the good will that HAD been attached to your legacy.

Michael N. Escobar

July 13, 2011, 8:08 p.m.

The thought of all that malfeasance! The money just turns to lead in your pocket!

There is much about this that I do not understand. I do know that the WSJ and Fox news have always seemed to be much more balanced than their competitors in the “news” media! (Which is not especially complimentary.)
There is much to be said about everything but everybody has not yet said it! May God bless and be kind to us all.

It was no surprise to most of us that the Bancrofts would regret selling the WSJ to murdoch.

All they had to do was investigate murdoch’s background.

@Heike Terrell. we’ve had repercussions since the day fnc started. Millions of us knew what a scumbag murdoch is and that he is close to the teabagging/gop.

I’m looking forward to seeing lots of dirty laundry being exposed.

“The Wall Street Journal is the top-selling daily newspaper in the United States and a brand with global prominence.”

Kalashnikov is a globally-prominent brand, too…and just like The Wall Street Journal, not particularly dangerous unless wielded by those with evil intent.  Unfortunately, both have fallen into the hands of the latter.

You have to go by what the right does, rather than by what they say…ask yourself:  Is there any evidence to support the hypothesis that Murdoch’s empire favors democracy and the rights of the people of any nation over the malicious greed and lust for power of the wealthy few of, again, any nation?

Giving control of The Wall Street Journal to Murdoch was the equivalent of air-dropping Kalashnikovs into al Qaeda training camps:  Of course it will be turned upon America and all that we stand for.

As a side note:  I truly despise being forced to paint “the wealthy few” with such a broad and indiscriminate brush.  I actually know of some (some would say monstrously) wealthy individuals who are quite willing to pay excellent wages and salaries in excellent working conditions in return for excellent work.

But apparently they and the rest of America’s too-sane-to-be-a-modern-“conservative” wealthy find sitting back and accepting the incredible increase in their incomes that “the barbarians” who control the right have achieved through diverting income away from the American people to be too…lucrative…to allow them to make an effort to save the nation that so enriched them and their families.

“Tsk, tsking…” over the behavior of the right’s “barbarians” isn’t enough….as many elites have belatedly found out over the history of man.

Shocked. I am shocked. Not since Claude Rains discovered gambling at the back of Rick’s place have I seen such shock.  You knew who you sold it to. Live with it.

Gee I’m just a dumb ass welder and I knew Murdoch and his whole crew were crooks of the highest order…This man is lying through his teeth.

“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.”
Ha! Ethics! Haha! Where were the ethics when the money was doing the talking? Give me a break.


Townsend Harris

July 14, 2011, 8:20 a.m.

The Bancrofts did very, very, very well with their sale.  They timed it perfectly.  And freedom means they’re allowed to sell to anyone, anyone at all.
Since when is their greed a cause for their shame?

Surprised to see the former publisher and spokesman for the old WSJ allowed to pass this off as a news article when in fact it is a thinly veiled screed against what Murdoch has turned the paper into. The old WSJ wouldn’t allow this sort of thing and neither should ProPublica.

Recent generations of the Bancroft family were clearly poor custodians of Dow Jones and the Journal. Why ProPublica allows them to vent in public about a sale they made several years ago of an asset they had mismanaged (or in fact ignored) is unknown. Do Mr. Tofel and his colleague Mr. Steiger want to allow the family that paid them so well for so long at Dow Jones to have another crack and needless hand-wringing. You may not like Murdoch’s WSJ, ProPub, and Murdoch has indeed bled it of its power in the business and journalism communities, but the fact remains that Murdoch runs the place as if it were a business, compared to previous management and editors who ran it as if it didn’‘t have to make any money to stay afload

They sold the paper because the money offered by Murdock was irresistible.. MONEY = GREED = REGRETS..

sorry they didn’t give a tinker’s hoo ha for the readers of WSJ.. I no longer read or purchase the paper.. Once something has gone to Murdock, I walk away..

Greg Walljasper

July 14, 2011, 1:07 p.m.

I think this reveals just how much those at the top exist in their own little out of touch with reality group-think echo chamber within which they exist

If Rupert Murdoch hadn’t been born…
Fry & Laurie knew in the early 90’s

This is a load of BS. The family members would have sold the company for $60 a share regardless of who the purchaser was. It’s not like they were all pillars of the community and highly ethical newspaper owners either. This scandal too shall pass and, if anything, will add name awareness to the Murdoch/News Corp. empire. I enjoy reading the WSJ in-print and online before and after.

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