Don Graham and the Washington Post are far more natural buyers. Although the Post and Journal editorial pages reside on opposite sides of the political aisle, they run complementary businesses. The Post has no interest in selling papers much beyond the Beltway. The two organizations also have chemistry. Kann and Graham go back to the Harvard Crimson, and this summer they were spotted at dinner in Manhattan. In 2003, the old chums hammered out a deal for Post stories to appear in the Journal’s international editions. Len Downie, the Post’s executive editor, told one of his reporters recently, “We would love to buy the Journal, if we could ever get the family to sell.”
Graham, however, would need the blessing of Warren Buffett, the Post’s influential board member. According to the rumor mill, the “Oracle of Omaha” might even buy the Journal with his own cash. Buffettologists, however, reject this scenario. They note his animus toward the paper, which he recently slapped in the face by recommending its competitor the Financial Times in his annual letter to investors. And it’s no secret that Buffett has little patience for the staunch conservatism of the Journal’s editorial page. Nor would Buffett’s assent guarantee a Post bid. Don Graham lacks his mother’s flamboyant ownership style. His aides-de-camp say he fears igniting a bidding war for the Journal that might drive yet another family-owned paper into corporate arms—a scenario he fears because he assumes his chief rival would be Rupert Murdoch.
Graham has good reason to fear Murdoch, who first floated the idea of purchasing Dow Jones to Kann in 1997, at the height of the Telerate debacle. And earlier this summer, according to one eyewitness, he told top News Corp. execs that “there’s no other property in the world I would love to acquire more.” Apparently, he covets it so much that he says he would want to personally run the Journal. “He has begun to justify to himself how he can pay $60 a share for the company,” says one source who has discussed the Journal with him. Sixty dollars happens to be the price point at which, according to last May’s Fortune article, the Bancrofts would sell. Dow Jones shareholder Mark Boyar says, “Murdoch is the most obvious buyer.”
There’s no denying the Journal would fit snugly into his empire. They share the same politics. So much so that at the height of last year’s election, Karen House big- footed editors in Washington and published a note retracting an article’s description of Fox News Channel as “a network sympathetic to the Bush cause and popular with Republicans.” (One reporter from the Washington bureau told me her boss, Gerry Seib, “didn’t know about the correction until it was a done deal.”) More important, the Journal also jibes with Murdoch’s wish to launch a Fox business channel.
Wall Street Journal reporters, the world’s leading archaeologists of corporate machinations, understand that Murdoch is the most likely alternative to Bancroft ownership. Time and again in our conversations they privately fretted about the possibility of working for News Corp. Their fear creates an odd dynamic. Over the past five years, the newsroom has viciously turned against Peter Kann, its onetime hero. They consider his layoffs and cost-cutting acts of betrayal. Outside last year’s annual shareholders meeting, a union-organized gathering of reporters shouted, “Peter, Peter, benefits eater.” Inside, the stock-market columnist E. S. Browning read a blunt statement: “The feeling among Dow Jones employees is that management has gotten greedy—greedy in what it wants to pay itself, and greedy in its effort to take our health benefits and wages based on such a flimsy justification.” But as the company’s advertising crisis continues, with few signs of abating, these reporters have found themselves with no choice other than to root hard for Kann to pull off an eleventh-hour victory with the “Weekend Edition,” to ensure that the company retains its independence. After one reporter angrily itemized his grievances against Kann, he took a deep breath and sighed. “On the other hand, he’s all that separates us from ‘Page Six’ and Bill O’Reilly. May God bless him and keep him safe.”