Sunday, November 12, 2006

Another New Bidder For Tribune Company - And Los Angeles Times!

So this new guy is not a newspaper man, thinks he can squeeze more profit out of the Tribune papers than the Tribune can... and he has been accused of accounting fraud.

The Devil we know is looking better and better...

November 13, 2006
Ex-Chairman of Insurer May Bid for Tribune

Maurice R. Greenberg, the former chairman of the insurance giant American International Group, has become the latest wealthy mogul to express interest in the struggling newspaper industry.

Mr. Greenberg, 81, known as Hank, is considering a bid for the Tribune Company, people briefed on his plans said yesterday. Mr. Greenberg, these people said, has been quietly reaching out to investment bankers and lawyers about pursuing an offer.

He has also expressed interest in pursuing other newspapers and newspaper companies, these people said, including The Boston Globe and perhaps even Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

With that, Mr. Greenberg joins several other celebrities who are exploring investments in an industry that has been steadily losing readers and advertisers to the Internet.

Last week, two Los Angeles billionaires, Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle, made a surprise bid for all of the Tribune Company, whose assets include 11 newspapers, two dozen television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. David Geffen, the co-founder of DreamWorks, the Hollywood studio, has been exploring the possibility of a bid for The Los Angeles Times. And John F. Welch Jr., the former chief executive of the General Electric Company, has been mulling a bid for The Boston Globe, a unit of The New York Times Company.

Having amassed more than $20 billion, Mr. Greenberg could prove to be a major force in the newspaper industry. People who have spoken with him recently suggest that his interest in the newspaper industry is sincere. "Hank is completely serious. He's looking to make his next big bet," one person who spoke with him said, cautioning that it was still early. "He likes to be a contrarian. He thinks many newspapers have strong brands and are being massively undervalued."

A spokesman for Mr. Greenberg declined to comment.

Beyond Mr. Greenberg's view that newspapers may be undervalued, it is unclear if his interest is simply as an investor or if he wants to take an active role in the editorial direction of newspapers.

Many of Mr. Greenberg's colleagues, including Mr. Broad, Mr. Geffen and Mr. Welch, appear to be interested in purchasing their local papers more for civic reasons than financial ones. Mr. Broad, for example, has told associates that he will be willing to accept lower profit margins to create a paper that benefits the community.

People close to Mr. Greenberg say he has also raised questions about the dual-class share structure of several newspapers, including the Times Company, where family members have control through a special class of stock.

Before Mr. Greenberg was ousted from A.I.G. last year under a cloud of suspicion about accounting issues, he was frequently interviewed in newspapers and on television and seemed to relish attention from the press. But since his troubles arose, he is said to have been frustrated with the way much of the news media has covered his travails and has in large part stayed away from publicity, with the exception of a few strategically timed interviews.

While Mr. Greenberg may pursue the Tribune Company and other papers alone, people close to him said he had also put out feelers about joining other investors. Mr. Greenberg already has a relationship with Mr. Broad, for example, as a result of Mr. Broad's sale of the insurance company SunAmerica to A.I.G. It could not be learned yesterday whether the two men had been in contact.

Mr. Greenberg has been looking for a next act since he was ousted from A.I.G. last year over questions about whether the company masked underwriting losses and faltering reserves with various sham transactions, including one with General Re, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway.

The New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, has filed a civil suit against Mr. Greenberg, accusing him of accounting tricks to hide problems at the company. Mr. Greenberg has denied the accusations. Mr. Spitzer recently dropped several of the civil charges in the suit.

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