The city of Los Angeles and the staff of its main newspaper are laying out quite the welcome mat for the Koch brothers and their potential purchase of The Los Angeles Times. It reads, essentially: Please let the door hit you on the way out. Indeed, the Times staff is in open revolt against Charles and David Koch, the owners of Koch Industries and notorious conservative campaign backers. And the city council is apparently so petrified of the Kochs's lack of objectivity that it's threatening to pull funding for those staffers' retirement accounts. If you thought Rupert Murdoch was bad, the Kochs may already be contributing to what one local politician called "the end of journalism" — and they haven't even made an offer yet.
The brothers's interest in the 131-year-old paper was first reported by L.A. Weekly and then confirmed most recently by The New York Times. The Kochs are among a group of investors looking to buy Tribune Co.'s group of eight papers — including the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun — that Tribune Co. hopes to sell as a package. Murdoch's News Corp. has been flirting with Tribune Co. for months now about possibly buying the L.A. Times, setting up a potential bidding war with the Kochs, but there are many questions about Murdoch's interest in the whole package. Recently a group of primarily Democratic L.A. based investors led by billionaire Eli Broad, L.A. mayoral candidate Austin Beutner, and billionaire Ron Burkle have come forward as a potential Times purchaser, but there interest remains in question as well. Which means the Kochs are looking something like prime candidates for a sale. And that isn't going over so well this week.
At a Tuesday night Los Angeles city council meeting, three members put forward a motion threatening to "consider pulling city pension money from the investment firms" that own the Times, the L.A. Times itself reports, if Tribune Co. sells the paper to a group that does not support "professional and objective journalism," as the motion's author councilman Bill Rosendahl put it. "Frankly what I hear about the Koch brothers, if it's true, it's the end of journalism," Rosendahl said at the meeting. The motion was supported by coucilman Dennis Zine and councilman Eric Garcetti, a current hopeful for L.A. mayor. "We cannot support the sale of the Times to entities who Times readers would view as a political transaction first and foremost, turning L.A.'s metropolitan daily into an ideological mouthpiece whose commitment to empirical journalism would be unproven at best," Rosendahl wrote in the motion. The motion will go to the city's budget board next week, after which it would be presented to the full city council. These three members want the city to use its investments and pension funding in the Tribune Co. — and the Times staff's future — to influence a potential purchase. And it seems Times employees, their pensions aside, feel the same way.
Staffers at the biggest paper in America's second biggest market are lashing out at their parent company the best ways they can: in the pages of the paper itself, and a threat to walk away from their jobs — even as journalism jobs shrivel up, they're making clear they prefer that to working for owners who donate untold millions to influence campaigns ever year. At a recent Times staff awards ceremony, The Huffington Post's Kathleen Miles reports that Steve Lopez, a prominent columnist and Times employee for more than a decade, proposed something to the crowd of employees in front him. "Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by the Koch brothers," he asked of them. About half the room did. Lopez asked the same question of billionaire Austin Beutner's bipartisan group and of Murdoch's News Corp. publishing spin-off. Up went no hands and a few hands, respectively. Imagine if they had time to think about it. On Tuesday, the paper's editorial cartoonist David Horsey made his feelings about the sale known in a scathing illustration and accompanying essay:
Dorsey's written take on the potential Koch takeover reads in part that "It is far more likely they hope to create print versions of Fox News." A number of Times reporters and employees supported Horsey's take over Twitter. Business reporter Ken Bensinger and foreign editor Mitchell Landsberg pushed the cartoon to the masses. "The long and short of the discussion on [David Horsey's] Koch-related post today — no one's happy about anything," added web producer Morgan Little.
Tribune Co. is expected to send financial data to serious suitors sometime within the next few weeks, if they haven't already. There is always a chance Tribune Co. will elect not to sell the papers, but considering the company emerged from bankruptcy in December that seems unlikely. We know the Kochs are one of many potential suitors. We just don't know whether they will be turned down or not, either by Tribune Co. or by greater Los Angeles.