Geffen's free ride

No one manipulates the press like David Geffen. Latest example is word of his interest in buying a big stake in the NYT Co. Fortune was first out with the news, and then BW and Newsweek offered analysis-type follow-ups. None of these stories actually quotes the man. Instead, they use anonymous sources - or as several of the stories put it, "people familiar with Geffen's thinking." What's remarkable is how little actual reporting goes into these pieces. They appear to be little more than exercises in dictation - just as they were a while back when Geffen thought about buying the LAT.

The beauty part is that unlike the other handful of bizguys who have the ability to capture media interest - Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch come to mind - Geffen does not head a public company and therefore can act (and leak) on his own behalf. And because so many business reporters built their careers around Geffen and the other larger-than-life media moguls, he gets special attention. Consider the opening of the Newsweek piece:

At 66, David Geffen has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates at $4.5 billion in its annual list of the global megawealthy. The Hollywood impresario, one of the world's most prescient investors, has scored mammoth returns in art and hedge funds, having cashed out of the financial and art markets well ahead of the crashes. But the foundation of Geffen's wealth--and his first love--remains the media industry, where his touch has been consistently golden, managing and producing legendary music acts such as Joni Mitchell and the Eagles and to helping launch DreamWorks.
The BW piece opens this way:

It's the hottest topic on two coasts. Why in the world would David Geffen, perhaps the shrewdest investor Hollywood has seen in years, want to plunk down $200 million or so for the 19.9% stake in the New York Times Co. held by hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners?

Hottest topic on two coasts? Who says? Actually, Geffen has kicked quite a few tires in recent years, but there's been little to suggest - publicly anyway - that he's really in the dealmaking game. Maybe the NYT will prove the exception (I somehow doubt it). But back to Geffen's mouthpieces, as told to BW:

Geffen, who in the last year has stepped down from his job as chairman of Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio and from the board of Dreamworks Animation, doesn't so much see this as a business venture, but rather as a civic investment. Hard to believe, but after years of watching Geffen operate behind the scenes, it is clear that at 66, he has little left prove in the business world. He is worth . . . well, who knows. But likely north of $6 billion since he presciently took all his money out of the stock market a year before the crash.

Now that's a very interesting paragraph. First off, there's the implication that Geffen is no longer interested in something as trivial as making money. No, he wants to help restore order for the esteemed NYT - and in so doing, for all of journalism. Then, the reader is told, without the slightest shred of evidence, that he took all his money out of the stock market before the crash. Well, maybe it's true - or maybe it's just sorta, kinda true. We'll never know for sure. I give you media manipulation at its best.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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