‘WSJ’ Committee Criticizes ‘Notification’ on Managing Editor’s Resignation

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By: Joe Strupp

The special committee formed to oversee editorial independence at The Wall Street Journal claims it was improperly informed of Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli’s resignation after the fact, according to a report the group released Tuesday.

The report states that learning about the resignation “after the fact failed to meet the letter and the spirit of the agreement” between Dow Jones and News Corp. over editorial independence.

It went on to add, “Mr. Brauchli expressed ‘regret’ that the committee ‘learned of my resignation late in the process.'” Brauchli resigned on April 22.

The five-person committee, formed last year after News Corp. purchased Dow Jones, was created “to protect the editorial integrity of the newspaper” and “have oversight and approval of the hiring of a new managing editor,” News Corp. officials said at the time.

In a statement late Tuesday, Dow Jones said: “There is absolutely no suggestion from the Special Committee that the integrity of the Journal’s reporting or of its reporters has been compromised in any way whatsoever.”

The special committee includes: Louis Boccardi, former president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press; Thomas J. Bray, former reporter and bureau chief in The Wall Street Journal news department; Jack Fuller, retired president of the Tribune Publishing Co.; Nicholas Negroponte, cofounder the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Susan M. Phillips, dean of the George Washington University School of Business.

Each member is paid $100,000 annually to serve on the committee.

The committee report also notes that it plans to be involved in approving or opposing Brauchli’s replacement, stating that it “intends to exercise fully its role in the approval of a successor managing editor and to take the steps necessary to prevent a repeat of the process it has just been through. The Committee will be meeting directly with Wall Street Journal Publisher Robert Thomson and News Corp. officials in the near future to discuss these and other matters.”

Bray, in comments to E&P, said this incident would not cause him to step down from the group, noting “this is just a process that needs to be worked on.”

The entire committee report is posted below:

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The Special Committee, established to oversee and enforce compliance with the terms of an agreement between News Corp. and Dow Jones & Co., has had numerous queries in the wake of the resignation of Marcus Brauchli as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

We felt it might be helpful to lay out a chronology of events:
— At its regular quarterly meeting in February, the Committee met alone with Marcus Brauchli, who assured us that no issues of editorial independence or integrity had arisen in the wake of the News Corp. acquisition of Dow Jones in December.

— Each member of the Committee received a telephone call from Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., on Monday April 21 alerting us to the fact that Brauchli had resigned and reached an “amicable” agreement with News Corp. He asked us to join a conference call at noon the next day.

— Murdoch and other News Corp. officials, as well as Brauchli and Brauchli’s lawyers, participated in the call. All members of the Committee participated.

— We questioned the officials and Brauchli about the circumstances of the resignation. Although our charter does not directly envision a process for dealing with a resignation, Committee members expressed the view that learning of the Brauchli matter after the fact failed to meet the letter and the spirit of the agreement.

— We then asked the News Corp. representatives to leave the room and questioned Brauchli separately. His answers were consistent with what had been said before. He said he had been approached two weeks earlier and told that News Corp. wanted to make a change in the managing editor. Brauchli said he felt that the owners should be able to choose their own managing editor; that it would be best if he left without acrimony; and that his action was not the result of any problem with editorial interference or attempts to impose an ideological viewpoint. He insisted that News Corp. has been “scrupulous” about the integrity of the paper. He said that if that had not been the case, he would have notified us.

— The committee has not been made aware of any issues of editorial independence or integrity either before or since the telephone conference.

— After News Corp. officials rejoined the meeting, the Committee expressed the view that it should have been notified before the Brauchli departure. The News Corp. officials pledged to keep the committee thoroughly informed during the process of hiring a new managing editor.

The Committee met subsequently and decided that there was no practical way to “unresign” Brauchli and start the process over. Under the agreement, the committee has the duty and responsibility to approve or disapprove such actions. The Committee intends to exercise fully its role in the approval of a successor managing editor and to take the steps necessary to prevent a repeat of the process it has just been through.

The Committee will be meeting directly with Wall Street Journal Publisher Robert Thomson and News Corp. officials in the near future to discuss these and other matters.

Thomas J. Bray
Chairman
The Special Committee



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