The big news today is of course the Graham family’s shocking sale of The Washington Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This, along with the sale of The Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry and the sale of Newsweek to IBT Media, signal the true end of an era.
The days when Americans woke up to the daily newspaper on their doorsteps is long gone. The place to go for the latest news these days is the internet and print newspapers and news magazines are struggling to survive. But the Globe and Newsweek have been on the auction block for a long time; the Post sale was a complete surprise, even to its employees.
From David von Drehle at Time Magazine: A New Age for the Washington Post
It’s hard to startle the journalism business these days, given the scale and speed of disruption of the media industry. But the Graham family selling the Washington Post to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million is an exception. Few newspapers in the world are as closely identified with a single family.
The story of the Grahams and the Post used to be told in giant pictures on the wall of the newspaper lobby on L Street not far from the White House. One grainy photograph documented the day in 1933 when the brilliant financier Eugene Meyer bought the paper for a song at a bankruptcy sale on the courthouse steps. Another (a favorite of all of us who worked there) showed Meyer’s remarkable daughter, Katharine Graham, beaming as she left another D.C. courthouse in the company of her favorite editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, after they prevailed over the government in the Pentagon Papers lawsuit.
But the most important photograph, according to Mrs. Graham’s son and successor Donald E. Graham, was the one that showed Meyer in the company of Philip L. Graham, the brilliant and tragic husband of Katharine and father of Don. They were smiling like a pair of lotto winners, which they were. The year was 1954, and after years of effort and red ink, they had finally bought out their last remaining rival for dominance of the morning-newspaper market in Washington. As other families would learn in other cities across the country — the Chandlers in Los Angeles, the Coxes in Atlanta, the Knights in Miami and so on — dominance of the morning-newspaper routes would become a decades-long license to print money.
Owning the morning meant that the Post would thrive as afternoon newspapers fell to the competition of television news. (The last afternoon paper in Washington, the excellent Washington Star, winked out in 1981.) It meant that advertisers hoping to reach a broad Washington audience had no choice but to pay the Post’s steadily increasing rates. That day in 1954 was the key to everything the Post later became, Don told me one day about 10 years ago when we bumped into each other in the lobby. Watergate, all the Pulitzer Prizes, the foreign correspondents, the celebrity columnists — all of it was possible because the patriarch and his son-in-law managed to lock up the morning.
A couple more links on the Post sale:
James Fallows at The Atlantic: Why the Sale of the Washington Post Seems So Significant
I have known and liked Donald Graham and his family over the years; many of my friends in journalism have at one time or another worked at the Washington Post. My first reaction to news that the family had sold the paper is simple shock. But it is shock based not on my positive-but-not-deep personal connection to the paper and its people but rather on sheer generational disorientation.Readers below about age 40, who have known the Post only during its beleaguered, downsizing-its-way-out-of-trouble era, may find it hard to imagine the role it once played. Over the past decade-plus, the New York Times and theWall Street Journal have been the national newspaper organizations. It already seems antique even to use the word “newspaper” in such a construction, for reasons I don’t need to belabor now. But their flagship daily print publications make the NYT and the WSJ similar to the Financial Times and different from the other remaining ambitious news organizations — Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters, the broadcast and cable networks, NPR, etc.There was a time when you would automatically have included the Post in that first-tier national grouping. Other mainly regional or local papers were strong — the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and on down a nostalgic list. But more than any of the rest of them, the Post was fully in the national-newspaper derby and measured itself every day against the Times in talent level, depth and breadth of reporting, international coverage, sophistication, and all the other measures of a nationally ambitious operation. People who have started reading the paper in the past dozen years — rather, who have notstarted reading it — probably can’t imagine this difference in stature. But it is dramatic, and real.
“The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of ‘Black Beauty,’ ” A. J. Liebling wrote. “Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings.” And sometimes, out of the blue, the ownership changes and you don’t know what the hell you’re getting in your bucket—fresh oats or cut glass.
At around 4:25 Monday afternoon, the staff of the Washington Post was summoned to the paper’s auditorium, a vast room where the presses used to be. The meeting would begin at 4:30 P.M., they were told. Donald E. Graham, the leader of the Graham family, which has owned the paper since Eugene Meyer bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1933, stood solemnly before journalists who had been demoralized over the years by staff cuts, precipitous plunges in circulation, and endless dark rumors. It was a room full of reporters and editors, and yet, as one told me, “we thought we were there to hear that the Grahams had sold the building.”
In fact, Graham told them, in a voice so full of emotion that he had to stop a few times to gather himself, they were selling the Post and a handful of smaller papers—for two hundred and fifty million dollars, to Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon, who is estimated to be worth more than twenty-five billion dollars. Graham asked the people there not to tweet, just to listen. The assembled were so stunned that when it came time for questions no one had any for a while; Graham had to urge them out of their silence.
“This was just plain sad. Now we belong to a guy who is so rich that the paper is around one per cent of his net worth,” a reporter told me soon after the meeting. “This was the family acknowledging that we can’t do it anymore and we have to give it to someone else. And we love the Graham family, we are proud of the family.”
It’s a long and interesting essay–read the rest at the link.
Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui at The Washington Post write that Bezos paid more than he needed to for the Post.
The purchase price is richer than many of those paid for other legacy print media properties in recent years.
The New York Times Co. agreed to sell the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John W. Henry for only $70 million. Newsweek sold for a symbolic $1, plus assumed pension liabilities, to billionaire Sidney Harman in 2011.
The Post “has a much stronger position in its market than the Boston Globe does,” said John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst. “It doesn’t surprise me that it would command a much higher price.”
Still, Morton suggested that the prominence and the visibility of The Post made Bezos willing to pay a higher price than would be justified by the paper’s finances alone. “I think probably Jeff Bezos was willing to pay a premium to make this happen,” Morton said. “. . . Bezos has enough money that if he wants to make it a hobby, he can.”
Interestingly, The New York Times apparently sold The Globe for less than they could have gotten. According to the AP:
BOSTON — Three bidders who fell short in their attempts to purchase The Boston Globe say they offered more than Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s winning $70 million bid and criticized the decision of the seller, The New York Times Co., to make a deal with him.
Springfield television station owner John Gormally, West Coast investment executive Robert Loring and U-T San Diego chief executive John Lynch all said their groups’ bids bested Henry’s.
Henry agreed to pay $70 million to buy the Globe, the Boston Metro and the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, about 50 miles from Boston. The bid, announced Saturday, was a fraction of the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid 20 years ago.
Lynch said his group offered “significantly more” than Henry and wondered how the Times Co.’s shareholders would react after learning the company accepted a lower offer.
“I’m just stunned,” Lynch told the Boston Herald. “I thought this was a public company that had a fiduciary duty to get the most by its stockholders.”
Gormally says his bit was $80 million, but he admits that local ownership will probably be better for the Globe in the long run. Perhaps the Times wanted to do us Bostonians a favor.
I’m running out of space, so I’ll just add a few more stories in link dump fashion.Mark Ames on Vladamir Putin’s “human rights” record: Snowden’s Savior Announces Plans To Build 83 “Concentration Camps” Across Russia (link unlocked for 2 days)
A former student sues her high school for bullying she suffered–first lawsuit based on new Massachusetts anti-bullying law
Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas? (Christian Science Monitor)
How the World’s ‘Most Biodiverse Place’ Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money (Miami Herald via PBS)
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
I know everyone is focused on the Colorado shooting, but I feel as if I need to post this new information about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.
New interviews and public records research by Boston Globe reporters Beth Healy and Michael Kranish make it clearer than ever that Romney was still in control of the company during his “leave of absence” to manage the 1999 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Interviews with a half-dozen of Romney’s former partners and associates, as well as public records, show that he was not merely an absentee owner during this period. He signed dozens of company documents, including filings with regulators on a vast array of Bain’s investment entities. And he drove the complex negotiations over his own large severance package, a deal that was critical to the firm’s future without him, according to his former associates.
Indeed, by remaining CEO and sole shareholder, Romney held on to his leverage in the talks that resulted in his generous 10-year retirement package, according to former associates.
“The elephant in the room was not whether Mitt was involved in investment decisions but Mitt’s retention of control of the firm and therefore his ability to extract a huge economic benefit by delaying his giving up of that control,” said one former associate, who, like some other Romney associates, spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company.
Romney originally planned to take a leave of absence, while contributing part-time to Bain. It was agreed that “five managing directors” would be in charge while he was away. Romney was technically no longer involved in investment decisions, but he had legal control of the firm.
Basically, Romney wanted a huge golden parachute, and retaining control of Bain gave him leverage. He was still the boss, even if he had let go of micromanaging every new project and decision. The reporters talked to
James Cox, a professor of corporate and securities law at Duke University, [who] said Bain’s continued reference to Romney as CEO and sole shareholder indicated that Romney was still the final authority. Moreover, Cox said, Romney would likely have been updated regularly about Bain Capital’s profits while he was negotiating his severance package. As a result, Cox said, Romney’s statement that he had no involvement with “any Bain Capital entity” appears “inconsistent” with his actions.
“If he is 100 percent owner, I just find it incredible that what I would call ‘big decisions’ — acquisitions, restructuring, changes in business policy — that they would not have passed on to him on an informational basis, not asking for formal approval but just keeping him in the loop,” Cox said.
Romney’s departure left Bain in a somewhat chaotic state. The remaining partners were worried about their ability to raise funds for takeovers without their former boss. Some of the partners chose to leave Bain and begin their own firms “rather than go through the limbo transition.”
I seems quite clear that Romney has lied on disclosure forms on which he has stated that after February 11, 1999 he “was not involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.”
What I can’t understand is why he didn’t just lay out all these facts and simply deal with any criticisms about investments that Bain made between 1999 and 2002. He benefited financially from those decisions anyway–and is still benefiting from Bain investments. But now he looks dishonest as well as ruthless toward workers who suffered when Bain outsourced their jobs or drove their employers into bankruptcy.
CNN also published an important article about Romney and Bain today. The author is Roberta Karmel, a former SEC commissioner who is now Centennial Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School. Karmel has been quoted in the Boston Globe’s previous articles on Romney’s separation from Bain. Karmel explains in detail why Romney can’t avoid responsibility for Bain between February 11, 1999 and early 2002 when he officially resigned as CEO and presumably transferred some of his shares to the new managing partners.
The contradictory representations in the Government Ethics Office and SEC filings are at best evasive and at worst a violation of federal law. A federal statute — 18 U.S.C. § 1001 — provides that anyone who “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully — (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” shall be fined or imprisoned. Violations of federal securities laws, including the making of false statements in a 13D filing, are independently punishable under the securities laws….
Romney is not now claiming his 13D filings were inaccurate or false, but he is claiming that although he was chief executive officer, managing director, chairman and president of Bain Capital, he was not really there, but in Utah managing the Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, he was earning more than $100,000 in salary from Bain. Since he will not release his income tax returns for 1999-2002, we have no idea how high this salary really was.
If Romney was not “involved” in the operations of Bain Capital, why was he being paid? As sole shareholder, why did he keep himself on as CEO? Also, at least with respect to the Stericycle deal, he invested as an individual along with the Bain entities. Why is Romney’s story about his relationship to Bain and its investment activities at odds with the documents his firm filed?
There’s much more, so if you’re interested, be sure to check out the entire article. I assume the Obama campaign will quickly latch onto this new information. Will Romney try to explain, or will he continue to resort to the “pathos of the plutocrat” as described in Paul Krugman’s latest column–whining because he isn’t getting the deference that he feels is his due as one of the super-rich? Krugman:
Like everyone else following the news, I’ve been awe-struck by the way questions about Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, and his refusal to release tax returns have so obviously caught the Romney campaign off guard. Shouldn’t a very wealthy man running for president — and running specifically on the premise that his business success makes him qualified for office — have expected the nature of that success to become an issue? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that refusing to release tax returns from before 2010 would raise all kinds of suspicions?
By the way, while we don’t know what Mr. Romney is hiding in earlier returns, the fact that he is still stonewalling despite calls by Republicans as well as Democrats to come clean suggests that it could be something seriously damaging.
Anyway, what’s now apparent is that the campaign was completely unprepared for the obvious questions, and it has reacted to the Obama campaign’s decision to ask those questions with a hysteria that surely must be coming from the top. Clearly, Mr. Romney believed that he could run for president while remaining safe inside the plutocratic bubble and is both shocked and angry at the discovery that the rules that apply to others also apply to people like him. Fitzgerald again, about the very rich: “They think, deep down, that they are better than we are.”