Once you get past all the nonsense about newsroom staffers threatening to quit and City Council members threatening to... well, do something if the Koch brothers end up buying the Tribune Co. papers (including the LAT), check out Jack Shafer's piece on Reuters. Among other things, he points out the absolute weirdness of Rupert Murdoch possibly becoming a white knight by wresting the papers away from the Koch boys.
Murdoch!? The guy whose London tabloids excelled at phone-hacking? The owner of Fox News Channel and the New York Post? The kowtower to the Chinese? Whose newspapers have brought readers such headlines as "Nympho Gets Life for Killing Hubby With Paraquat Gravy," "Maniac Who Cut Off Mom's Head to Go Free," "Uncle Tortures Tots with Hot Fork," "Leper Rapes Virgin, Gives Birth to Monster Baby," and "Green-Eyed Sex Fiend Is Hunted." Automatically judging Murdoch a better steward of a newspaper than the untested Kochs is an idea that would only occur to a journalist. (Disclosure: In the early 1980s, I worked at a Koch-funded political magazine, Inquiry, for less than three years. It was a pretty good magazine. I met David Koch at a cocktail party in those years, but he didn't give me the time of day. I've never met or spoken to Charles Koch.) It's a mark of the newspaper depression that the only people interested in buying a big-city daily these days are 1) those who have never owned one, 2) those who have recently purchased one and think they've discovered the secret to profitability (Aaron Kushner in Orange County, Douglas Manchester at the U-T San Diego and John Georges today in Baton Rouge), and 3) Rupert Murdoch.
If the Koch brothers think owning the Los Angeles Times will transform the political realm, I have just three words for them: the Washington Times. In just one decade -- 1982 to 1992 -- convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon spent in excess of $1 billion on his conservative daily newspaper to little political effect. Yes, the Washington Times served as a sort of Conservative Mingles site for Republicans during the Reagan and Bush years, providing a place to swap gossip and backstab, but if Moon's paper advanced the conservative mission, I'd love to see the evidence. Rich guys like Moon who have burned part of their fortunes on publications -- Mort Zuckerman at U.S. News & World Report and the New York Daily News; Barry Diller and Sidney Harmon and Newsweek; Philip Anschutz at his Examiners; Arthur L. Carter and his Observers and Nation; et al. -- assume they'll extract influence and power from their publications. But as publishing amateurs, all they usually get out of the transaction is a very expensive business lesson before they start looking for the next dumb money to buy them out of their mistake. "The press is not, and probably never has been, as powerful an agent as politicians seem to believe," Roy Greenslade wrote in the U.K. Guardian in 2010. "On the other hand, it is certainly not as neutral and lacking in influence as proprietors and editors tend to say." The same applies in the United States. The largest Tribune newspapers -- in Los Angeles, Chicago, Central Florida, South Florida and Baltimore -- can make life uncomfortable for state and local government and even on occasion make the feds jump. But as circulation dwindles and competition from other media sources increases, today's newspaper is a shrinking megaphone.