L.A. City Councilmen Would Divest Pension Money From a Potentially Koch-Owned Tribune Co.


It is instructive to watch the superstructure of liberalism wheeze into gear at the mere rumor of a right-wing-bogeyman purchase of a distressed, unloved newspaper company:

Three Los Angeles City Council members—including a candidate for mayor—asked their colleagues Tuesday to consider pulling city pension money from the investment firms that own the Los Angeles Times if they sell the publication to buyers who do not support "professional and objective journalism." […]

"Frankly what I hear about the Koch brothers, if it's true, it's the end of journalism," said [Councilman Bill] Rosendahl, a former broadcaster. "I don't want to see Los Angeles, the second-largest city and the biggest region in the nation, not to have a quality newspaper."

Rosendahl's motion calls on the council to support a buyer who has demonstrated "the highest terms of professional and objective journalism." It also calls for a report on how the city can use its pension funds and other investments as leverage to achieve that goal.

"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.

Austin Beutner, local Democratic politician, is totally not interested in turning the L.A. Times into an ideological mouthpiece. ||| Walter Moore
Walter Moore

As I mentioned in my HuffPost Live appearance on the topic last night, it's striking how this concern over the unproven "commitment to empirical journalism" somehow does not apply to potential buyers who happen to be heavy in both Democratic and (unlike the Kochs) local politics. As Kathleen Miles reported this week at The Huffington Post,

The ownership that most Angelenos seem to favor is a coalition of LA billionaires who have expressed interest, led by former Democratic mayoral candidate Austin Beutner and including prominent Democratic donor Eli Broad.

Broad is not just any Democratic donor; he's a real estate developer (long the the most hated descriptor among newspaper purists in sprawling SoCal), a committed corporatist, and the most leveraged high-culture philanthropist in Los Angeles. He has so much skin in the game, from shaping local education policy to throwing lavish inaugural parties for President Barack Obama, that during my tenure on the L.A. Times editorial page he was commonly referred to around the office by just his first name. "Where's Eli on this?"; that kind of thing.

And yet, as Miles reported, here's what happend when columnist Steve Lopez asked his colleagues what they'd do under various ownership scenarios:

"Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Austin Beutner's group." No one raised their hands.

"Raise you hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch." A few people raised their hands.

Facing the elephant trunk-on, "Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by the Koch brothers." About half the staff raised their hands.

When I worked there, I used to enjoy the looks on people's faces when I said stuff like "Yeah, it'd be kind of awesome if Rupert Murdoch bought the paper." ||| newser.com

Remarkable, isn't it? The staff (at least according to this unscientific poll) would prefer a massively conflicted local Democratic heavyweight with zero experience in journalism over even one of the most successful (if deservedly controversial) newspapermen on the planet.

Anyway, the City Council story is one of many reasons why politicizing pension funds is a bad idea. And this whole sale-rumor story is turning out to be an interesting exercise in smoking out the interests and fears of a deep blue city in decline mode. As LA Observed's Kevin Roderick pointed out, the head of the Courage Campaign, which is spearheading efforts to block Koch ownership of Tribune, "happens to be running an independent expenditure committee promoting Garcetti's campaign for mayor." That would be the same Garcetti just endorsed for mayor by the L.A. Times. The important thing here is to make sure things around Spring Street don't get too political.