Even for an article in the real estate section of the New York Times, the subject of Sam Zell’s spectacular mismanagement of the Tribune Co. is unavoidable. And the diminutive mogul is happy to flap his gums on the topic, denying any responsibility for the largest media bankruptcy in American history:
Zell does not blame the heavy debt burden for Tribune’s failure, but rather the precipitous dive in newspaper advertising that occurred just after he bought the media company and the staff’s intransigence. “I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to convince the people that it was in their own interest to modify the way in which the business ran, so as to be profitable,” he said.
That’s the same decline in advertising that affected every single newspaper in this country, the vast majority of which didn’t go bankrupt. That was the problem? That and the uppity staff? Yeesh.
He says he solicited feedback from the staff, and personally answered 15,000 e-mails. “I did that as an attempt to create at The Tribune the same kind of collegial environment that’s been so successful in everything else we’ve done,” he said. “But it takes two to tango.”
The same “collegial environment” that fostered inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment? The same environment the NY Times compared to a frat house? Zell is bragging about that?
People who know him well say Mr. Zell has a healthy ability to put his failures behind him and move on. But it is clear that the Tribune experience still rankles. He dismissed the notion that print journalists at Tribune might have had concerns other than making money.
“In my experience, newspaper people are at least as greedy as anybody else,” he said, “and any perception to the contrary is perpetuated by the media itself.”
Oh, those greedy journalists, wanting to get paid and to work for a publication that has integrity.
On a related note, one of the defining characteristics of a sociopath, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is the “lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”
I’d say we have a winner.