Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Isiah Thomas As Editor-In-Chief Of Newsday?

Only On Cable, Never In The Funny Papers

First it was Mortimer Zuckerman (Daily News) vying for the ownership of Newsday. Then it was Rupert Murdoch (NY Post).

And now, the Dolans, of Cablevision and NY Knicks infamy?

It could happen, according to a recent report published in the very paper that has become the focus of this high-priced tug-of-war, Newsday.

The Dolans, who, with Isiah Thomas courtside, all but ruined New York's champion-grade basketball team, and, while fleecing subscribers, have monopolized the cable scene for decades, are now poised to make a pitch for Newsday.

The Dolans, whose midas touch has made the family rich, have nonetheless destroyed everything they get their greedy little hands on, from the ruination of the Knickerbockers to the destruction of a cable empire through lousy customer service, price gouging, and hundreds of channels, few of which are worth the fiber optics they are transmitted through.

Use the subscribers' money to buy Long Island's only regional daily? Sure, why not?

And if Rupert Murdoch should win the war for Newsday?

Well, then, perhaps he'll appoint Al D'Amato to the editorial board.
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Cablevision poised on Newsday bid; Al D'Amato's role seen

Cablevision Systems Corp. appears poised to make an end-around bid for Newsday this week with an offer expected to top two competing $580-million bids by media barons Rupert Murdoch and Mortimer Zuckerman, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But while Cablevision's controlling Dolan family may be willing to up the ante, they apparently do not have the behind-the-scenes influence that News Corp. Chairman Murdoch has been employing to smooth the Newsday purchase with local politicians: former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

D'Amato, whose Park Strategies Washington Group Llc is listed as a lobbyist for News Corp., last week made introductory phone calls for Murdoch to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), among others, both officials acknowledged.

"I've had several conversations with Al about this in the past weeks," said King. "Al has great respect for Rupert Murdoch."

Since 2006, D'Amato and Park Strategies have been paid $160,000 to represent News Corp. before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress on "matters relating to telecommunications, media and broadcasting," according to federal records. D'Amato's firm declined comment yesterday, as did News Corp.

Unclear Monday was just how much the Dolans might be willing to pony up for Newsday, or whether the cable giant would move forward with an offer in conjunction with New York Observer owner Jared Kushner. Spokesmen for the companies declined to comment.

Cablevision and Observer officials are expected to meet again in the next few days to discuss their possible venture, one source said. The Observer, in any case, is not prepared to go it alone, the source said.

An expert following the bidding, who suggested Cablevision's interest in Newsday would likely drive the sale price higher, into the low $600-million range, said its interest is as much about strengthening its local empire as locking out other media players.

"Make no mistake about it, the Dolan family does not want Murdoch or Zuckerman staking out camp in Melville," where Newsday is based, said Kevin Kamen, president and chief executive of media appraisal firm Kamen & Co. Group Services in Baldwin. "They believe this is their market."

Any escalation of the bidding could play into the hands of Tribune chief executive Sam Zell, who is working to amass cash for large debt payments tied to the transaction that took Tribune private. As such, Zell hasn't set a formal deadline for bids but would like to receive them soon, said one source familiar with the Zell-Murdoch talks. "He doesn't want to drag this out. After all, he and Rupert have already reached an agreement in principle for Newsday," the source said.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment Monday.

Separately Monday, Tribune announced completion of its $175-million purchase of the land and buildings used by Newsday and three of its other newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.

The deal severs the final tie between the papers and their former owner, the Chandler family of Los Angeles. It also wipes out about $24 million in annual rent payments.

Sources familiar with the talks for Newsday said the land acquisition gives Tribune more flexibility to strike a deal because it now owns all of Newsday and can retain ownership of the property in a future joint venture.

The notion of a joint venture has emerged as a key tax-avoidance component of Murdoch's bid for Newsday.

D'Amato has been a vocal proponent of Murdoch's ownership of Newsday. "Already the owner of the vigorous New York Post, Murdoch could bring decades of newspaper experience to bear, together with the ability to create a joint operating agreement between the two paper," D'Amato wrote in a November 2006 column in the Long Island Business News, well before Tribune went private in the Zell-led transaction.

This story was reported by James T. Madore, Thomas Maier and Mark Harrington. It was written by Harrington.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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