Malone, Diller and the story that ended the affair

March 12, 2008

maffei-sun-valley.jpgMedia titans John Malone and Barry Diller knew they had their fair share of disagreements over the years, but like many couples heading to divorce, they apparently needed someone else to tell them that.

Enter Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro.

The media industry read with rapt interest her story in October that put in plain language how much tension had built up between the two over their partnership in IAC/InterActiveCorp. 

But as the two moguls duke it out in Delaware court this week, they keep invoking that story, day after day, as the moment that sent their relationship past the point of no return. 

Diller apparently understood the story as grounds to endorse a control structure for a spin-off of IAC businesses that would dilute the grip of Malone’s Liberty Media over the units. And that is what brought them to court today.
“It was kind of a verification in his mind they had gone over a significant line and the possibility of doing a transaction beneficial to both sides was becoming highly unlikely,” IAC Vice Chairman Victor Kaufman said when asked by Liberty’s lawyers.
IAC’s lawyers made liberal use of the story as well, asking Liberty CEO Greg Maffei whether he orchestrated the original interviews with himself and a usually press-shy Malone to send a message to Diller. They asked Maffei whether he tried to influence that story by flying the New York-based reporter out to Denver and talking up his views of Diller over several hours of travel time.
Maffei rebuffed that idea, saying  he didn’t come up with the idea for the flight, that there were other people on the plane and most of the time they spent playing the card game “Oh, Heck”:
[We asked Dow Jones about the flight. Here’s their statement: “The Wall Street Journal attempted to reimburse Liberty for the flight, but the company subsequently returned the check. In keeping with our guidelines, we still intend to reimburse Liberty. We stand by the fairness and accuracy of our story.”]
After it appeared, Malone said he had already guessed Diller’s reaction:
“I thought Barry’s not going to like this when he sees it. (Did you call Diller?) I should have but I did not. Because when I read it, it came across not the way I would have liked it to come across. 
In the end I did call. It was roughly two months later. (Apparently Diller told Malone of his one share, one vote plan during that call)”

(Photo: Reuters / Maffei in Sun Valley 2007)

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