Activists outside L.A. Times building protest potential sale to Koch brothers

Activists outside L.A. Times building protest potential sale to Koch brothers

May 29, 2013|by Walter Hamilton
About 200 protesters rallied Wednesday outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times to protest a potential sale of the newspaper to the politically conservative Koch brothers.

The rally was one of a dozen nationwide at media properties owned by Tribune Co., which is considering selling The Times and seven other daily newspapers after emerging from bankruptcy late last year. Activists are seeking to pressure Tribune not to sell the papers to Charles and David Koch, billionaire siblings who fund a range of conservative causes.

Wednesday’s marked the third protest in L.A. this month by unions, environmentalists, subscribers and others.

As in earlier rallies, the protesters excoriated the Koch brothers as radical ideologues who would use the paper as a mouthpiece to advance their political objectives.

“Honest, credible journalism is the keystone of our democracy,” Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, told the crowd. The Koch brothers “have an agenda and they are willing to spend their billions of dollars on it.”

Protesters chanted and carried signs with slogans such as “Keep the L.A. Times out of the Kochs’ clutches.”

“Here’s the headline I want to see tomorrow in the L.A. Times – ‘L.A. to Koch Brothers: Drop Dead,’ ” said Sean McGrady, regional director of Greenpeace.

A Koch spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment. In a statement earlier this month, she downplayed published reports about the Kochs’ interest as “pure speculation in the media.”

However, sources with knowledge of the matter say the Kochs are actively pursuing Tribune’s stable of papers. Other potential bidders include Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. as well as a group of wealthy Southern Californians headed by Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and ex-deputy mayor of Los Angeles. 

The Courage Campaign, an activist group that spearheaded the rally, handed a box to Times security guards with what it said were signatures from almost 500,000 people nationwide opposing a sale to the Kochs. The group requested that the signatures be delivered to Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein.

Last week, about 100 activists gathered in Beverly Hills in a demonstration targeted at Bruce Karsh, Tribune chairman and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles investment firm that is the largest single holder of Tribune stock.

The protesters focused on Karsh because Oaktree manages pension investments on behalf of unionized government employees, including those in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Unions have opposed selling The Times to the Koch brothers, who they say want to skew the paper’s coverage to favor anti-union objectives.

Koch Industries Inc., based in Wichita, Kan., is one of the nation’s largest privately owned businesses, with interests in energy, fertilizers and building products. The company is a major contributor to political groups that advocate less regulation and smaller government. The brothers have been prominent backers of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose high-profile battle with that state’s public-sector unions drew nationwide attention.

Tribune declined to comment on the demonstration but has tried recently to tamp down the furor over the Koch brothers.

In a memo to Tribune employees two weeks ago, Peter Liguori, Tribune chief executive, called speculation about a possible sale of the papers “premature” and said any decision on the matter is not “imminent.”