Unions, activists and artists held a rally on Tuesday, to protest the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to the Koch brothers, warning that such a sale would turn one of the US’s great newspapers into a right-wing mouthpiece.
Hundreds gathered outside the downtown Los Angeles office of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co, which owns the LA Times, to deter it from making such a deal. Some carried signs saying “No Koch Hate in LA”.
“The idea that the LA Times could be taken over by right-wing radical extremists just boggles the mind,” said Glen Arnodo, staff director of the LA County Federation of Labor, as protestors prepared to picket. “It’s impossible to believe with their brand of extremism that there would be any objectivity whatsoever.”
Charles and David Koch own Koch Industries, a Kansas-based energy and manufacturing conglomerate, and back conservative causes including the Tea Party movement. They funded Republican candidates in last year’s elections, through their organisation Americans for Prosperity. They have not confirmed interest in buying the financially troubled organ of a Democrat-leaning, liberal city – spokespersons have declined to comment, beyond saying the brothers respect the independence of journalistic institutions – but rumours of a bid have intensified in recent months.
The prospect has prompted an outcry from readers, commentators, politicians and civic groups. The LA Times’s fate matters far more to the city than the current mayoral race, said the Washington Post. Thousands of readers signed a petition against the mooted sale.
Members of the newspaper’s staff have made little secret of their disdain for the Koch brothers. “Having fallen short of their objective of crushing Democrats and liberalism, they now apparently believe a necessary component in their strategy is ownership of a few major newspapers,” the paper’s cartoonist, David Horsey, wrote in a recent opinion piece. “It is doubtful they want to merely have a voice on the editorial pages, as has always been a publisher’s prerogative. It is far more likely they hope to create print versions of Fox News.”
Californian labour unions and civic groups have lobbied the city council to oppose the sale and to consider divesting funds from firms that own the newspaper, should they sell it to the Koch brothers. Tuesday’s protest was intended to remind Oaktree Capital Management that choosing a buyer was a political as well as a commercial decision. The musician Ry Cooder was scheduled to perform a campaign song, including the lyrics:
Don’t sell out to the Koch brothers / Don’t let the brothers in the door/ We don’t want them taking over / That is what we’re marching for.
Arnodo said the paper would become unrecognisable under Koch ownership. “What level of science and environmental coverage would it have from guys who deny climate change? What type of coverage of the elderly from guys whose mission is to destroy social security?”
Some LA Times readers scorned the objections as hypocritical, saying the newspaper had a left-wing bias and that public sector unions needed to be reined in. “Oh, cuz the times is soooo unbiased now, give me a break! Bring on the Kochs!!!! wrote one. “It certainly would be interesting to see the Times move to the right in their opinion pieces and remove some of the leftist slant to almost every story,” wrote another.
Repeated cutbacks at the paper have shed scores of journalists and made the LA Times a thinner, feebler product with diminished circulation. Even so, it remains influential. Its parent company, Tribune, owns seven other papers including the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant. Tribune recently emerged from bankruptcy and is believed to want to sell all eight newspapers as a package, priced at around $1bn.
Rupert Murdoch reportedly wishes to bid but his ownership of television stations in Los Angeles in theory disqualifies him.