Charles and David Koch, the oil-baron brothers who pump millions of dollars into right-wing causes, are looking to purchase the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly reported earlier this month.
For people who care about newspapers, as well as those who care about preserving democracy in general, putting the top daily of the state's most populous city into the hands of the Koch brothers amounts to a dystopian scenario.
No surprise, then, that more than 100,000 people have signed a petition asking the Tribune Company to not sell their paper to the Kochs "or any other propagandists."
Today, the Courage Campaign, which sponsored the petition initiative, along with the Daily Kos and MoveOn.org, delivered the signatures to the Times' headquarters.
The groups declared in a statement, "We won't stand for another Fox News."
While the LA Times no longer holds the "New York Times of the West" mantle, it remains one of the most important newspapers in America. Like most dailies, the Times has struggled to adapt to a world in which the traditional print business model is no longer consistently profitable. Papers everywhere have cut staff, experimented with paywalls, and closed bureaus.
But a major paper going to a pair of buyers who have so vigorously lobbied to shift the political landscape in a way that bolsters their business interests, would be a disconcerting precedent.
Not that the Tribune's recent history shows an ethical opposition to turning major newspapers into megaphones for the wealthy. In 2010, New York Times media critic David Carr illuminated the company's shady practices under the control of real estate mogul Sam Zell, who was the company's top shareholder from 2007 through 2012:
In June 2008, Mr. Zell approached [then-editor Ann Marie Lipinski] at a meeting, saying that The Chicago Tribune should be harder on Gov. Rod Blagojevich. She reminded him that the newspaper had aggressively investigated the governor and that its editorial page had already called for his resignation.
"Don't be a pussy," he told her. "You can always be harder on him."
In a news meeting later the same day, she found out that Mr. Zell was in negotiations to sell Wrigley Field to the state sports authority.
"It was hard to avoid the conclusion that he was trying to use the newspaper to put pressure on Blagojevich."
Carr's story also prophetically suggests why the LA Times is now on the trading block: "At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse." Further, the Tribune was "particularly aggressive... in mixing advertising with editorial material. Those efforts alienated longtime employees and audiences in the communities its newspapers served."
The Los Angeles Times was especially affected by this philosophy.
As Carr noted in 2010:
Advertising has been inserted into The Los Angeles Times in new and unsettling ways. In March, an ad mimicking the front page for Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" was wrapped around the first section and in July, a fake version of the newspaper's section for late breaking news, called LATExtra, was wrapped around the real one, promoting Universal Studios' King Kong attraction, with a lead "story" that read "Universal Studios Partially Destroyed." In April 2009, an advertisement posing as a news article about NBC's new show "Southland" appeared on the front page.
In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the governing body of the county of Los Angeles, sent a letter of protest, saying that the use of advertising disguised as news "makes a mockery of the newspaper's mission."
At least one media observer, LA-based journalist Harold Meyerson, carries the burden of knowing that he saw much of this coming. In a 2008 Washington Post column, just six months after Zell bought the paper, Meyerson called Zell "the LA Times' Human Wrecking Ball." Zell, he wrote, "is well on his way to... destroying the LA Times."
To those petition signers, Koch brothers might be even worse.