Fear and Loathing in L.A.: Koch Brothers Eye the Times

Tuesday, April 30, 2013
David Koch and a glimpse into the future (graphic: ForecastTheFacts.org)

Ultra-conservative, politically active billionaire brother industrialists David and Charles Koch are widely believed to be interested in buying the entire newspaper group—which includes the Los Angeles Times—currently owned by the recently bankrupt Tribune Company.

The price, reportedly $625 million, would be a pittance for the brothers, who are each worth $34 billion. And their willingness to buy the entire group of eight regional newspapers, which also includes the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and the Orlando Sentinel, is considered a distinct advantage. The Times is the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper and the Chicago Tribune is ninth. A deal could also include Hoy, the country’s second-largest Spanish-language daily.

Tribune is expected to share financial statements with interested parties in May. The brothers have not commented publicly on the matter.

The brothers control Koch Industries, Inc., a sprawling industrial conglomerate and major supporter of libertarian causes. It has provided heavy financing for the Cato Institute, climate change denialists and the political action group Americans for Prosperity, an early, important backer of the Tea Party.  

It is, of course, hard to predict precisely how the Koch brothers would influence the editorial policies and content of the Times if they bought it, and unfair to try. That said, a quick visit to KochFacts.com, a news source provided by Koch Industries Inc., does yield some insight.

On March 18, the website approvingly linked to a Concord Monitor editorial: “Obsession with the Koch brothers clouds the left” and a Breitbart blog item, “Raw Numbers Expose Extreme Media Bias Against Koch Brothers.” An earlier favorite, at the Powerline blog,  was “Employers and Employees: Contemporary Liberalism and Class Warfare.”

Some fear that one might no longer find headlines in the Los Angeles Times like this one from November 5, 2012: “Disclosure by Arizona nonprofit shows ties to Koch brothers.” The story traced a mysterious $11 million that was dumped in political campaigns—opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s tax initiative and supporting an anti-union measure—back to a nonprofit group associated with the brothers, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which acted as a conduit. 

It would mark a return of right-wing ownership at the Los Angeles Times that ended in 1960 when Otis Chandler wrested control of family-owned Times Mirror Co. from his conservative relatives and transformed it into a relatively intelligent, stylish, progressive and honest journalistic enterprise.

That sort of news presentation has largely gone out of style. But judging by the howls of indignation sounded at the prospect of the Koch brothers entering the market—perhaps in association with Doug Manchester, conservative millionaire developer and owner of U-T San Diego since 2009—L.A. may not be ready for the future shock.

Commentator Harold Meyerson warns the paper would likely become a “right-wing mouthpiece,”  Steve Pearlstein at the Washington Post thinks journalists en masse need to “lob a stink bomb” at the Koch effort and Craig Aaron of media watchdog Free Press is already talking about the need to “picket and protest.”

The newspaper has changed since the Chandler family sold it in 2000. It has less content, has lost a lot of talent, reaches a much smaller print audience and has shifted a lot of focus to its web presence. It has also drifted politically toward the center from a perch considered a shade to the left (extreme left, from the Koch perspective).  

There hasn’t been this much hand-wringing since the last right-wing billionaire to own the newspaper, Sam Zell, led it into bankruptcy shortly after purchasing it in 2007, although by now you would expect media observers to be inured to the prospect. Rupert Murdoch has been rumored to be a potential suitor for the Los Angeles Times since before it emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2012.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More

Are the Koch Brothers Trying to Buy the Los Angeles Times? (by Hillel Aron, LA Weekly)

Conservative Koch Brothers Turning Focus to Newspapers (by Amy Chozick, New York Times)

Koch Brothers vs. Rupert Murdoch: The Fight for Tribune Newspapers Is On (by Connor Simpson, The Atlantic)

Four Reasons to Worry About the Potential Koch Takeover of Tribune Co. Newspapers (by Lee Fang, The Nation)

44 Congressional Darlings of the Koch Brothers (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

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