FOX-y move? Koch brothers may buy major U.S. newspapers

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In a move that could signify a drastic FOX-ification of U.S. news, the far-right billionaire Koch brothers are reportedly seeking to buy The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and five other daily newspapers around the country.

The others on the list are The Orlando Sentinel, The Hartford Courant, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, Va.).

The eight newspapers are owned by the Tribune Company, currently the nation's second largest newspaper publisher. The company was taken over by creditors last year after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Now the creditors - led by JPMorgan Chase among others - are selling off the newspapers. Koch Industries, headed by Charles Koch, is one of the interested buyers, according to a New York Times report this week.

It would fit with a strategy Charles and David Koch announced three years ago to advance their right-wing, so-called libertarian, political agenda.

At a private seminar of rich right-wing political donors in Aspen, Colo., "they laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes," the Times reported.

The first two prongs were educating grassroots activists and influencing politics. We have seen this come to life in the past several years as the Koch brothers spent millions financing the tea party, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's union-smashing drive, the astroturf "Americans for Prosperity," and the so-called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The third prong in their strategy was: media.

Sure, the right-wing Murdoch empire already has a giant media megaphone with FOX News, and has converted the formerly liberal New York Post to a right-wing scandal sheet. Murdoch owns the Wall Street Journal too.

But reportedly, the resounding Obama victory in the 2012 presidential election spurred the view among right-wingers that they needed to take their media presence to a new level. Their massive television ads did not do the trick in 2012, so the next logical step, they evidently conclude, is to simply buy the media outright.

"A running joke among conservatives as we watched the GOP establishment spend $500 million on ineffectual TV ads is 'Why don't you just buy NBC?'" right-winger Seton Motley, told the New York Times. Motley, a columnist for notorious ultra-right media manipulator Andrew Breitbart, heads an anonymous online group calling itself "Less Government."

Washington Post commentator Harold Meyerson notes that The Los Angeles Times is the country's fourth largest paper, The Chicago Tribune is No. 9, and others are in battleground states, including two of Florida's largest newspapers, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Meyerson says the deal could also include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper - thus reaching the key Latino voting constituency.

Commercial newspaper owners these days are corporations, out to make a profit. And, as Meyerson comments: "All newspaper owners have politics of their own." But the sale of some of the nation's major papers to the aggressively right-wing Koch brothers would be something different, he observes: "a political transaction first and foremost," turning major metropolitan dailies into "a right-wing mouthpiece."

Tom Worstall, columnist for pro-business Forbes, disputes the idea that the Koch brothers want to influence readers' politics. It's simply an opportunity for them to squeeze big profits out of the troubled newspaper industry, he suggests. "It's possible to make a lot of money out of sweating a declining industry," Worstall writes. "It's simply necessary to reduce costs faster than revenues decline [and] a sufficiently ruthless management could strip an awful lot of costs out of the average U.S. newspaper set up."

Could both motives be in play? Based on their record, it would be hard to imagine Charles and David Koch not using newspaper ownership to push their political aims.

This would be one of the largest sales of newspapers, based on circulation, that the country has ever seen. The eight papers are valued at about $623 million.

But the purchase would be financial small potatoes for Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., which has annual revenues of about $115 billion.

Others reportedly interested in buying the papers include wealthy Los Angeles residents led by billionaire Eli Broad (who also funds charter school efforts) and Ronald Burkle, both prominent Democratic donors, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., who is said to prefer to buy only The Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Madison, Wis., Feb. 26, 2011. Sue Peacock CC 2.0

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