By Danny Feingold/Frying Pan News
The L.A. Times has not exactly been falling all over itself lately to curry favor with the city’s labor movement, with a seemingly endless stream of news stories, columns and editorials portraying unions in a less than sympathetic light. So the last thing one might have expected to see was a rally of workers and labor leaders coming to the defense of L.A.’s paper of record.
But desperate times call for desperate measures – and with the Koch brothers potentially poised to take over Spring Street, the present moment certainly meets the test.
In case you have tuned out the Times and every other source of local news, Charles and David Koch – patron saints of the Tea Party, best friends to climate change deniers and bankrollers of an endless parade of far-right causes – have set their sights on the Tribune Company’s empire. After emerging from a bankruptcy brought on by the rapacious practices of former owner Sam Zell, Tribune’s far-flung newspaper interests are up for grabs. And while Rupert Murdoch and a local consortium headed by Eli Broad are also in the running, public attention has focused on the Kochs.
With their shadowy political operations and uber-conservative agenda, the Koch brethren make an excellent target. The well-founded fear among those at yesterday’s rally, as well as a much broader cross section of the public that has signed onto petitions opposing a Koch takeover of the Times, is that the Kochs would use the Tribune properties as a tool in their propaganda war.
The Kochs, however, have much more at stake than ideological jihad. With hundreds of millions of dollars in business interests in California, the brothers could ostensibly launch an editorial offensive that would pay major dividends in the form of thwarted environmental and consumer protections.
For labor activists, the memory of the Kochs’ massive cash infusion into the coffers of November’s Prop. 32 – the ballot measure that would have stripped unions of the ability to participate meaningfully in politics – is still fresh. And if anyone in the crowd at Tuesday’s rally was feeling complacent, they were likely roused from their stupor by Mahlon Mitchell, head of the Wisconsin firefighters union. In a fiery speech, Mitchell reminded the crowd that “when you go to dinner, you are either at the table or on the menu.”
Roxana Tynan, executive director of the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy, echoed Mitchell’s warning, saying, “The Kochs have a right to try and impose their extreme political views on the country, but they have no place in mainstream journalism.”
The fate of the Times and its sister papers ultimately lies with Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co., whose investment portfolio happens to include hundreds of millions of dollars in public pensions. The several hundred people who gathered in front of Oaktree’s downtown L.A. headquarters were urged to keep the pressure on the firm’s president, Bruce Karsh, a Beverly Hills resident whose neighborhood will be the staging area for another demonstration later this month.
By that time, the anti-Koch chorus may rise to a deafening roar. The jury is still out on whether Karsh and company are listening.
Danny Feingold is the communications director at LAANE.org and the editor-at-large of Frying Pan News.
This story was republished from The Frying Pan News website with permission. Copyright 2009 THE FRYING PAN.