May 2007: Nobody asked me, but…

In a new monthly version of this column, and with a tip of the cap to legendary New York newspaperman Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

The announcement that the Bancroft family will consider Rupert Murdoch’s bid to acquire Dow Jones & Co. and the Wall Street Journal is reminiscent of the old George Bernard Shaw joke about the proper English lady at the dinner party who considers a (rhetorical) offer to sleep with him for 1,000 pounds, but is offended when he lowers the amount to 10 pounds. “What do you take me for?” she asks indignantly. “We’ve already established that,” Shaw replies. “Now we’re just negotiating the price.”

So Murdoch may be a newspaper-despoiler at $60 a share, but at $67 or $68 he may suddenly look like not such a bad chap—and no doubt Murdoch will agree to the fig-leaf “independent board” overseeing the journalistic sanctity of the WSJ. The Bancrofts will not be the first American newspaper family willing to cash out—the Chandlers in Los Angeles, the Binghams in Louisville, the Taylors in Boston, and the Knights and the Ridders all decided to exit newspapering.

That will leave the Sulzbergers of New York and the Grahams of Washington as the last public-spirited owners of great American newspapers. Both have insulated their publicly-owned companies (the New York Times Co. and the Washington Post Co.) from hostile takeovers through dual stock classes, with the family retaining controlling interest.

One colorful anecdote in a Wall Street Journal story on the situation noted that at a private family gathering in 1982 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dow Jones, 73-year-old Jessie Bancroft Cox had complained about the Boston Red Sox (“What’s the hell the matter with my Red Sox?”) before collapsing and dying of a heart attack. Sadly, Mrs. Bancroft wasn’t around to see the Curse of the Bambino lifted in 2004 when Beantown’s favorites won the World Series.

ONE OF THE “TENNESSEE TWO,” FRED THOMPSON, apparently has decided to run for the Republican presidential nomination: will his fellow Tennessean, Al Gore, also be a late entrant in the Democratic field? New York already has two presidential aspirants (Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Guiliani) with no other state fielding more than one. With 8 Democratic and 11 GOP candidates now in the field, and more threatening to come in, debate sponsors may have trouble crowding all of the candidates onto the stage.

NOW DIET COKE COMES IN A “PLUS” VERSION, with minerals and vitamins. Is this supposed to make us forget the other ingredients? Diet Coke is many famous guzzlers’ favorite Frankenfood; the New York Times reports:

A highly public roster of Diet-Coke-alites includes Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Elton John drinks it at concerts. Victoria Beckham is reported in a recent issue of Newsweek to have said she drinks it all the time because she can’t stand the taste of water.

RANDOM HOUSE AND JAMES FREY, author of “A Million Little Pieces” who has copped to fabricating parts of his best-selling memoir, will be refunding angry readers up to $2.35 million—without admitting any wrongdoing. The publisher and author faced lawsuits from readers who claimed they had been defrauded.

No doubt Random House and Frey caved because their high-priced lawyers warned them it would cost more to litigate than to settle. No doubt the settlement takes care of the plaintiffs’ high-priced lawyers and their excessive fees. And exactly how were Frey’s readers damaged? Somehow I don’t think they qualify for full-blown victim status—except in their own minds. A better settlement: anyone who feels defrauded should get a free download of the Eagles’ song, “Get Over It.”

GIVE COACH JOHN DANOWSKI AND THE DUKE LACROSSE TEAM credit for reaching the 2007 collegiate championship final, which they lost to Johns Hopkins, 12-11. The Blue Devils’ run to the title game came during a “season of redemption”; Duke president Richard Brodhead cancelled the 2006 season after three Duke players were charged with rape—charges dismissed after a year of controversy.

The NCAA seeding for the tournament hurt Duke; ranked #1, the ACC team had to face undefeated Cornell—inexplicably ranked #4—in the semi-finals while Hopkins played a weaker Delaware team. The Blue Devils had to be exhausted after a last-second 12-11 victory over Cornell, while Hopkins won easily, 8-3.

AMERICAN FARMERS ARE FEEDING THEIR PIGS TRAIL MIX and other fatty snacks as the price of corn—the main feed for livestock—has soared as the ethanol industry gears up, according to the Wall Street Journal. And pig farmers say their animals are picky eaters, but like sweet snacks. I’m sure a clever trial lawyer can conjure up a civil suit out of this: perhaps a class-action on behalf of the pigs over their trans-fat heavy diet?

The thought for the month is from Canadian columnist Mark Steyn: “The great advantage of cultural relativism is that it renders argument impossible. There is no longer enough agreed reality. It’s like playing tennis with an opponent who thinks your ace is a social construct.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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