Rupert Murdoch Could Write a Book on How to Undermine an Executive

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Murdoch and Brauchli. Photo: Getty Images, Patrick McMullan

Vanity Fair’s excerpt of Sarah Ellison’s War at the Wall Street Journal is almost chilling in the simplicity with which it explains Rupert Murdoch’s steady campaign of undermining and eventually ousting managing editor Marcus Brauchli. Brauchli, who had been working his way up at the Journal for 24 years, was a smart guy, but even he thought he could avoid his inevitable fate. It started the very first day Murdoch owned the paper (after he’d signed an editorial protection agreement that would supposedly block such things), when the media mogul called Brauchli out of his morning news meeting in front of the entire staff. Naturally, when Brauchli picked up the phone, Murdoch made him wait several minutes before picking up himself.

These transgressions progressed steadily. Murdoch dissed Brauchli’s long-laid plans for the paper and told him to change everything — and to go after the Times. Brauchli grew so exhausted trying to deal with Murdoch he became distracted from the very editors he was trying to protect. Then Murdoch insisted that Robert Thomson, the publisher he’d brought in from the London Times, get a seat on the editorial floor. From VF:


“Gee, there's no space down here,” [Brauchli] said to Thomson, with a barely perceptible smile.
“Look, it's not what you think,” Thomson said. “He doesn't want to make me editor.” With his stooped carriage — the result of a chronic inflammatory disease — and ever present black suits, Thomson cut an unusual figure in the newsroom, but he could be unexpectedly charming.
“To be honest, he wants us to be seen more in the newsroom. He thinks we should be visible,” Thomson said.
“Does he want me to quit?” asked Brauchli.
“No, no,” said Thomson, attempting to smooth things over and yet deliver a message. “He just wants things to move faster. You and he are moving in the same direction; it's just a matter of speed.”
“I have to look after the culture and the staff too. I can't do it all at once,” Brauchli said, pausing. “You have to protect me.”
“I take a lot of bullets for you, to be honest,” Thomson shot back.

Eventually Brauchli was asked to resign, exposing the editorial protection agreement for the farce it always was.

The Man Who Tried to Manage Murdoch [VF]
Earlier: Marcus Brauchli's Ouster: the ‘Journal’ Version vs. the ‘Observer’ Version