Tribune CEO Says Protest Over Koch Newspaper Sale Is Premature

Tribune Co. (TRBAA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Liguori, responding to a protest over a possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to Koch Industries Inc., said speculation over potential buyers of the company’s papers is “premature.”

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor rallied this week outside the offices of Tribune Co. investor Oaktree Capital (OAK), trying to ward off a sale of the Times to Koch Industries, a privately held company controlled by the billionaire Republican donors Charles and David Koch.

Tribune, which emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2012, entered negotiations to sell its newspapers earlier this year, according to people familiar with the process. In addition to the Times, the company’s holdings include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and six other daily papers.

“There’s been a lot of noise recently about the possible sale of our newspapers and speculation on who the interested parties might be,” Liguori said yesterday in a memo to employees. “From the get-go, such speculation has been and is premature. A sale transaction is only one of our possible strategic options, and there are many others.”

Koch Industries has been cited among several potential buyers -- a group that includes News Corp., Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), Wrapports LLC and Freedom Communications Inc., people familiar with the negotiations said in March.

Labor Objections

Labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, have raised concerns about a Koch purchase, citing the Koch brothers’ support for initiatives such as California’s Proposition 32, a failed ballot measure that would have prohibited unions from using payroll deductions for political purposes without permission.

Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, said it’s company policy not to discuss potential acquisitions. While Koch Industries has never said it’s interested in buying the Los Angeles Times, news reports that it may make a bid began appearing in March.

“Setting aside for a moment the fact that we don’t own the L.A. Times and that this is a protest about pure speculation in the media, we encourage people to learn the truth about Koch Industries,” she said in an e-mailed statement. About 30 percent of the company’s workers are represented by unions, Cohlmia said.

“Our union employees, along with all Koch company employees, play an important role in our continued growth and success,” she said.

Tribune’s publishing group was valued at about $623 million in its bankruptcy filings. Selling the papers would let the company focus on its more lucrative television business. Chicago-based Tribune operates 23 TV stations, along with websites such as Cars.com.

Liguori said in the memo that the company has received “a great deal of unsolicited interest in our publishing businesses, which says a lot about the strength of our brands.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Edmund Lee in New York at elee310@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net

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