Report: Half of staff may quit LA Times if right-wing Koch brothers buy paper

Call their bluff. Wherever you stand politically, we can all agree on that, right? If you’re a liberal, you want to see the fair, balanced, impartial LA Times newsroom rise as one and walk out in protest of having to work for libertarian oligarKKKs. If you’re a conservative, you want them gone for different reasons, partly as a smoking gun of bias and partly because it’ll clear the decks to hire more neutral reporters. And if they don’t walk out, that’s okay — their cheap bravado will have been exposed in all its cheapness.

Call their bluff. Break the left’s media monopoly. Then rename the paper the “Los Angeles Kochtopus,” just to spite them.

At a Los Angeles Times in-house awards ceremony a week ago, columnist Steve Lopez addressed the elephant in the room…

Facing the elephant trunk-on, “Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by the Koch brothers.” About half the staff raised their hands.

Perhaps one brave Times reporter would go public with a story killed by the new owners. She would lose her job, and it would be written about in The New York Times. And, it would pressure the LA Times owners to be more objective. But many of the people working at the Times support a family or are still developing their careers and can’t afford to lose their jobs — especially in a town with few job opportunities for newspaper journalists.

If half the staff quit under Koch ownership, that would leave half as many people likely to stand up to the owners — not to mention a huge loss of talented journalists who have built a wealth of LA knowledge and relationships over years of experience.

Half may be an underestimate. According to lefty Harold Meyerson, “A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sportswriters and arts writers).” Cheap bravado among like-minded liberals or a bona fide threat? There’s only one way to know for sure.

After Meyerson’s piece came out last week, I tweeted it as evidence that the great conservative dream of buying up big-name liberal media outlets and making them more objective had a fatal flaw, namely that the reporters themselves would never tolerate it. Some will walk, others will stay on and defy warnings from the top not to tilt left and then dare ownership to fire them, knowing that martyrdom from the rest of the media awaits. Ace countered that Fox News proves that’s not true: Surely there are plenty of liberals working there, however grudgingly, in the name of collecting a paycheck in a highly competitive industry. They’ll put money over ideology if push comes to shove. Maybe, but Fox isn’t an exact analogue. Fox started from scratch as a conservative network; the Kochs buying the Times would be an invasion of liberal territory, a takeover of a once-eminent serious newspaper. It would threaten the left in a way that building a conservative media outlet from the ground up wouldn’t. Choosing to work for it would, at least at first, be seen by some leftist media types as tantamount to crossing a picket line. That’s a price worth paying in the long run, and even in the short run to see the bias exposed so nakedly, but if you think the Kochs are going to swoop in and turn the Times neutral or even conservative-leaning overnight, you’re kidding yourself.

John Ziegler thinks it’s mostly cheap bravado:

Right, but donations aren’t ownership. A big donor wields influence but not direct power to fire, hire, or dictate editorial policy, and his name doesn’t affect perceptions of the company’s brand the way it would if he owned it lock, stock, and barrel. If you’re a liberal working for NPR, you can shrug off the Kochs’ donations on grounds that NPR itself remains left-leaning and independent. If they want to give you money to do your work under those circumstances, hey, it’s their dime. If you’re a liberal working for the Koch-owned Times, though, then suddenly you’re a tentacle of the Kochtopus. And if you stay on on for the paycheck even after other reporters quit in protest, you’re a sellout according to your bien-pensant friends. Different dynamic. Doesn’t mean most won’t, in fact, sell out — a reporter’s got to eat — but as I say, different dynamic.

Exit question for media pros: How often are would-be purchasers pressured into issuing statements like the following? I’m asking earnestly. Maybe it’s standard practice and I just don’t know it:

“As an entrepreneurial company with 60,000 employees around the world, we are constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor,” Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector, said in a statement last month.

“We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in the news stories,” Ms. Cohlmia continued. “But it is our longstanding policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring.”

Do liberal media moguls typically feel obliged to reassure future employees that they won’t lean on them to push a certain line, even when they’re just one in a field of prospective buyers? I can’t remember a case of a newsroom fretting that a corporate suitor might wreak havoc by pushing them too far to the left, but I’m willing to stand corrected.

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