John Bussey-the Wall Street Journal's DC bureau chief and one of the candidates touted for the newspaper's vacant managing editor position-probably won't get the nod from the Journal's new owners. To be sure, he's won respect from Rupert Murdoch's lieutenants for masterminding the newspaper's election coverage; one of them, Journal publisher Robert Thomson knows Bussey drive from their days together as rival foreign correspondents in Tokyo; and his less whiny underlings give Bussey credit for energizing the sleepy bureau in the capital. But Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici reckons Rupert Murdoch's lieutenants will bring in someone uncontaminated by the business newspaper's rather insular culture; and we're sticking by our original prediction that Robert Thomson will pull a Dick Cheney and nominate himself for the managing editor role (much like I have at Gawker). Anyway, it's too bad. Bussey has made a lot of enemies during his years at the Journal-and the backstabbing colleagues are offering a smorgasbord of delicious anecdotes about the newspaper exec that we'd love to have better reason to relay.
1. He's cheap. A reporting trip to Cincinnati early in his career was extended beyond the day-trip he'd packed for. Rather than buying an extra pack of underwear, Bussey reputedly wore reused the same socks and shorts the whole week, washing the items and leaving them up to dry overnight. Innocent enough, but this story isn't: when bureau chief in Tokyo, where he became friends with Robert Thomson, one of Bussey's reporters lost his father. Rather than pay for a ticket back to the US at such short notice, Bussey wanted the reporter to wait a week until flights were cheaper, legend has it.
2. He's cold. Bussey's a cropped-haired ascetic these days, totally consumed by his career. But he did once dip into the Journal's typically isolated dating pool. (The newspaper was run for many years like the Philippines under Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos-by Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann and his wife, Wall Street Journal publisher Karen Elliot House.) Before Wendy Steiger (pictured showing off her bosom in this blog photo) married managing editor Paul Steiger, she was Bussey's girlfriend. He famously broke up with her while in the shower. It's not clear who dumped whom, but Bussey's dry wit overcame any heartbreak. When Wendy moved on to his boss, Bussey remarked: "smart career move."
3. He sent reporter Danny Pearl to his death at the hands of Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002. This charge is particularly unfair-and based entirely on the understandably bitter account of Pearl's wife, Mariane. In the movie of her book, A Mighty Heart, Bussey is portrayed as an ineffectual manager who ignored warnings of the dangers to journalists in war zones and responded to the first report of Danny Pearl's disappearance with seeming indifference. "What do you think we should do?" his character asks Angelina Jolie's Mariane Pearl in the movie. A Mighty Heart does acknowledge that Bussey flew to Karachi to help with the hopeless rescue effort; it doesn't portray the breakdown he suffered after video of Pearl's brutal execution surfaced, after which the Journal put him out to pasture in Hong Kong. The positive spin: Bussey has been mellowed by the trauma of Pearl's death and a later demotion when rival Marcus Brauchli took over the Journal. He's no longer so obnoxiously driven; just driven.
4. But he's still a fusspot. Bussey's DC detractors say he never discusses stories and the biggest political scoop of his tenure-news of Mark Penn's demotion by Hillary Clinton-was pushed by Jerry Seib, his predecessor. That's debatable: journalists always complain that their precious stories don't get the play and attention they deserve. But the bureau chief's fusspottery-he's particularly preoccupied by sandwich counts at lunches for visiting bigwigs-makes it easy to mock his priorities. Writes a tipster: "Bussey's main initiative since Marcus installed him as Washington buro chief a few months ago has been his crusade to clean up the office. Seriously. He's obsessed with throwing out books and papers. He has this big blue bin on roller wheels that he puts next to offending reporters' desks and hectors them to throw everything away."