Chernin parachutes, Murdoch keeps flying

February 25, 2009

News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin’s perks after he leaves News Corp at the end of June are basic compared with some legendary golden parachutes, though they’re still worth more money than I make in a year. Or 10 years for that matter.

In addition to his Fox studios production deal, Chernin’s creature comforts include 50 hours on News Corp’s jet ($1.65 million value), corporate car ($210,000 value) and possibly personal secretary services ($1.05 million value). See the proxy statement for more details.

That might not send the image of a cost-cutting corporate culture at a time when News Corp’s stock is down 70 percent and the bottom looks further away as its most can-do executive quits. Then again, maybe Chernin’s doing the right thing, all things considered. Check out this little-noticed excerpt from Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch’s memo to employees:

Achieving our ambitions will require change and renewal. So throughout 2009, I will continue to work closely with all of our companies to make sure that we are organized and resourced in the best way to take advantage of this extraordinary point in time. We will press our advantages and invest in our great franchises. And, of course, we will keep our eyes on big prizes, some of which may arise only once in a generation. [Emphasis ours — ed.]

Wait a minute. Didn’t he already do that with The Wall Street Journal and its parent company Dow Jones? What’s it going to be next? Michael Wolff, who wrote the Murdoch tome “The Man Who Owns the News,” published late last year, thinks that Murdoch has it bad for The New York Times. Of course, the Times’s ruling family, led by Arthur Sulzberger Jr, has said the company and its legendary paper are not for sale.

But then again, it’s a generational issue — just like the word Murdoch uses in his memo. Younger Sulzbergers can’t be that happy that the TImes suspended the dividend that some of them depend on. Could they put enough pressure on their elders to sell? Maybe they could if Murdoch decided that some of his $5 billion would be money well spent on enticing the family with a larger-than-life offer, just like the Times. He said he’s not interested in becoming more of a “public enemy” by chasing the paper, but even media moguls are allowed to change their minds.

With investors in News Corp getting more annoyed for Murdoch’s attachment to newspapers (including the New York Post where he just axed longtime gossip columnist Liz Smith), it’s easy to imagine that Chernin — News Corp’s ambassador to Wall Street — might not be able to defend one more once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

One thing’s for sure: Just thinking about this keeps a media reporter up at night.

(Photo: Murdoch on the left, Chernin on the right. Reuters)

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