Selling Out Freedom


The Freedom Communications chain of newspapers (and other media properties) plans a huge step that will endanger the long-term prospects of the Hoiles family keeping operational control–which will probably mean an attenuation of the chain's historic adherence to a largely libertarian editorial philosophy. The Los Angeles Times reports today on a plan to sell most of the company to a new holding company such that, if family members end up selling more than 70 percent of the stock, two investment companies in on the deal would obtain voting control. (The restructuring details are complicated–consult the whole story if that sort of thing excites you.)

The founder of the chain was R.C. Hoiles, whose libertarianism was so staunch he famously came out against internment of the Japanese in his flagship paper, now known as the Orange County Register, then still the Santa Ana Register. This position, conventional wisdom now, was a daring one in southern California during World War II. Hoiles tried to keep a libertarian line on all his company's papers, giving, for example, his first newspaper job at the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph to libertarian lecturer and Freedom School (later Rampart College) founder Robert LeFevre, a significant libertarian influence in the 1960s (and the inspiration for Bernado La Paz in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

The company, and its guiding philosophy, stayed in the family for generations, but all such dynasties come to an eventual end. It is impossible for one man's vision, no matter how powerful, to dominate his family generations down the line. (Ask Henry Ford and J. Howard Pew and John D. MacArthur what they would think of the foundations that bear their name today.) Though today's announced move would not be an immediate abandonment of the company by the family, it clearly sets the groundwork for an eventual one. (For more nitty-gritty on the family squabbles that led to this, see this copy of an archived New York Times story from August 19.)