Zell gets ticked off when interviewer keeps asking about Tribune

zell5.jpgThe billionaire investor desperately wants to move on, but his failed takeover of the LAT parent company keeps coming up during interviews - most recently with the Financial Times.

Mr Zell is visibly rattled by the focus on what he has described as "the deal from hell". Eight months after he took control of the company, Mr Zell took it private. A year later, Tribune filed for bankruptcy, entering a legal quagmire from which it has yet to emerge. His slow, soft but menacingly tones, punctuated with long, throaty, gravelly "erms" give way to a rasping croak. "This is supposed to be an interview about a bunch of things and so far you've wasted most of the time we have allotted to the Tribune," he says. When the FT counters that Tribune was a huge deal, the 70-year-old Mr Zell raises his voice for the first time. "For you," he barks. "You're a journalist. And what I learned is that journalists like nothing better than to write and talk about journalism. And I have a lot of other things in my life that I'm doing. This was a very important investment for us five years ago. It didn't work out."

Of course, the Tribune deal will never go away - not only because journalists keep wanting to talk about it, but because it captures the cockiness and conceit of rich guy who thought he knew it all.

A damning article in the New York Times in 2010 accused Randy Michaels, a senior executive installed by Mr Zell, of repeatedly using sexual innuendoes and profanity in public, and of cheapening Tribune's historic boardroom with poker nights and juke boxes. Within two weeks, Lee Abrams, the company's new chief innovation officer, was sacked after sending out a company-wide email linking to a spoof video labelled "Sluts" that featured nudity and profanity. Mr Michaels resigned a few days later. Mr Zell calls the New York Times piece "a disgusting example of theoretical journalism ... a hatchet job, plain and simple" that was "dramatically exaggerated". He defends Mr Michaels as "among the most creative human beings that I've ever met", although he says Mr Abrams "crossed the line".

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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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