Citizen Geffen? Showbiz Mogul, Liberal Activist Wants to Own L.A. Times

According to a newspaper story this past weekend, the Los Angeles Times, which the Tribune Company has owned since 2000, is not for sale. One must assume the report is accurate, given that it appeared in the Times itself, under the byline of two of the paper's staff writers.

The story also indicates, however, that Tribune's position on unloading the Times may have changed from "no" to "not yet." Moreover, it states that three longtime Democratic moneybags -- David Geffen, Ron Burkle, and Eli Broad, each of whom lives in the L.A. area -- have asked Tribune if it might sell the Times. (Forbes magazine estimates the combined wealth of the three at $12.6 billion.)

Geffen is, of course, among Hollywood's heaviest hitters. Burkle is a supermarket bigwig and a good buddy of Bill Clinton. Broad, both the wealthiest and the least well known of the trio, founded builder KB Home and insurer SunAmerica.

From the Times article:

...Tribune Chairman and Chief Executive Dennis J. FitzSimons has since replied in writing to each of the prospective suitors, informing them that the board "unanimously asked me to advise you that at this time we are not prepared to discuss the possible transaction described in your letter," according to someone who saw the correspondence.

"If our perspective changes we will contact you," the FitzSimons letter concluded.

One person close to the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was confidential, said he considered FitzSimons' reply more hospitable than Tribune's previous posture, which was simply that The Times was not for sale.

A sale of The Times, arguably Tribune's single most valuable asset, would probably not occur except as part of a breakup or outright sale of Tribune, according to investors and analysts who follow the company. The presence of willing buyers for a number of Tribune properties, however, could increase pressure on the company to consider a breakup.

Sources said investors in Baltimore and New York had begun exploring the possible purchase of two other Tribune newspapers: the Baltimore Sun and Newsday...

The three Los Angeles billionaires have discussed various strategies for acquiring the paper — both individually or as partners. They have continued to talk enthusiastically about the prospects in private meetings, despite Tribune's cool response.

"They feel that with the Chandlers, the biggest stockholder, in opposition to current [Tribune] management and with the stock price going down that the trend is irreversible," said one interested party, who has discussed the situation with the three. "They think there will be a sale."

Those close to the private talks about the newspaper said that Geffen seemed particularly enthusiastic about the idea of owning the newspaper. They also depicted the DreamWorks SKG co-founder as the most likely of the trio to want to purchase The Times on his own.

Geffen...has told people that he envisions The Times as a national newspaper.

According to Federal Election Commission records, beginning in 1980 Geffen has contributed more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and the Democratic party, while giving a total of $2,000 to Republicans. Since 1984, Burkle has donated more than $1.4 million to Democrats and the party, and $10,500 to Republicans. A summary of Broad's contributions was not readily available, but since the beginning of 2005 he has donated $33,200 to Dem candidates and $47,100 to the party, while giving $2,000 to the GOP (specifically, to Rep. Buck McKeon).

The Times already is a liberal paper. The salient issue is how much more liberal it might become under new ownership.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters