Cause Unknown

More Staff Exiting 'National Law Journal'

Cox declined to comment. Post business editor Jon Elsen would say only, "Dan is leaving and we wish him well"—which left the rumor very much in play. It seems odd for Post editors to fire Cox after they sent him to the recent circus of media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he filed regular dispatches and landed an exclusive interview with Viacom's Sumner Redstone. Cox broke the stories that Vivendi's Jean-Marie Messier and AOL's Bob Pittman lost their jobs, and last week two of his stories made the front page.

But prodigious output might not be enough: The Post expects media reporters to cultivate sources at Olympian levels and break stories even their deep throats don't know. If indeed Cox was fired, inquiring minds want to know, did the decision come from Elsen, Post editor in chief Col Allan, or Rupert Murdoch, the paper's ubiquitous owner? Was something wrong with Cox's performance? Or might the problem be Murdoch's micromanagement?

The Aussie mogul has a reputation for feeding business tips to the Post in hopes the resulting stories will enlighten him and hurt his competitors. And when reporters fail to decipher Murdoch's myriad and mercurial agendas, they pay the price—as entertainment reporter Nikki Finke found out last winter, when her controversial Disney stories cost her a lucrative gig with the Post. If Cox decides to go public, he might become useful to Finke, whose multi-count lawsuit against the Post is winding its way through the courts. Finke's central thesis is that Murdoch exploits the Post to benefit his business interests—and an unemployed Cox might have something to say about that.

Last burning question: Who will be next to take on the high-profile job of big media snoop for Murdoch? Sources say The New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu is one of many who have been approached. Pappu says, "I'm not a candidate."

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