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WSI News - News Watch

Tribune's Last Hope:  Zell bust up!

filed by George Bova

March 25, 2007

As with most other news, the Chicago Tribune business section is only good for what the Tribune wants you to know.  So it's not surprising that the Wall Street Journal manages to cover the ongoing misadventures of Tribune Companies CEO Dennis FitzSimmons better than the local rag he manages.  The latest news is not good for either FitzSimmons or the assorted other Cubune corporate (Bozo the) clowns who have been the key actors in the this comic soap opera for over a year now.

When we last updated this story last spring, FitzSimmons was wistfully suggesting he could keep the "World's Greatest Newspaper" and the 23 television stations, and the Lovable Losers baseball division, too.  Reality has never been the strong-suit of anybody in charge of the Cubs, so inevitably reality came and slapped FitzSimmons hard in the face.  His largest shareholder, the Chandler family, balked at FitzSimmons' Tribune Tower-sponsored lowball offer.  Next FitzSimmons tried to offer the whole corporate kaboodle in a public auction whereupon reality slapped him even harder when the bids received were pathetically low.

The World's Greatest Newspaper isn't all it's cracked up to be?  Say it ain't so!!!!

So now the Wall Street Journal reports that private investor and real estate mogul Sam Zell is now the favorite for buying up the entire mess that FitzSimmons has created for himself.  And this is the part that is the most interesting to Sox Fans:  Zell has no current holdings with synergies between lousy regional newspapers, disjointed TV and radio stations, or pathetic losing baseball clubs.  Basically Zell is taking on a lot of debt ($4.5 billion presently on the Cubune's books) for the opportunity to start running the Cubune better than Dennis FitzSimmons.

Something has to give Sox Fans,  and the Federal Communication Commission figures to be the one pulling the strings.  Unlike current Cubune ownership, Zell doesn't figure to get a grandfather clause allowing him to keep ownership of both TV and newspaper interests in the same market.  Either the "World's Greatest Newspaper" or WGN-TV most certainly needs to be spun off. 

So much for the twisted logic FitzSimmons has been parroting, that the Cubs are integral to the Tribune empire.  The empire is about to be busted up!

Making the situation even more delicious for Sox Fans is the fact that Zell's offer is weak compared to the juicy restructuring options FitzSimmons and his Bozo Big Top Band were hoping to entertain.  The Wall Street Journal notes that Zell was considered a dark horse candidate to buy the Tribune as recently as a week ago, and actually kicked in a small amount of extra cash to raise his personal stake to just over $300 million simply to sweetened the pot for Cubune ownership. 

It's a measure of just how pathetic FitzSimmons' alternatives have become that Zell is now the Cubune's frontrunner.  They must know Zell is scraping the bottom of the bucket to offer what he can.

How will Zell make this investment pay off?  The usual method is cutting costs (i.e. laying off people) and selling assets.  Of all the misfit assets that would draw the juiciest price, Lovable Losers Incorporated figures to be the biggest, juiciest misfit of them all!

So how does Rick Morrissey feel about this?  And what about Phil Rogers?  And Dan McGrath, the Tribune sports department editor in chief who writes all those wonderfully biased headlines?  How does he feel about this?

They've all gone on the record as being in favor of the Tribune selling the Cubs.  Now they might pay the price with job losses in their own department. 

Care to revise and extend your comments, gentleman?

Who knew demonstrating your journalistic integrity could bite you in the ass this hard?


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