Karmazin, Ergen and Malone: paper tigers?

February 12, 2009

When media moguls duke it out, what’s their battleground? Newspapers, evidently.

For the past week, EchoStar boss Charlie Ergen and Sirius XM radio’s CEO Mel Karmazin have been doing battle on the pages of two venerable dailies, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The Journal had a head start on the story, reporting how Ergen had started buying up Sirius debt in an attempt to force the satellite radio company into a deal. Then, it revealed how Ergen had actually made an offer to buy Sirius, which Karmazin rejected.

While the rest of the media was digesting all this, out came the Times with a story that said Sirius was preparing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which could come within days. It had even hired bankruptcy experts, the Times wrote. The Journal quickly swatted that idea down, saying:

“The hiring of bankruptcy and restructuring advisers, while not surprising given the company’s financial predicament, doesn’t mean a filing is imminent.”

It refined that idea in a story Wednesday night, taking a direct swipe at the Times’ reporting:

“This week, Sirius representatives responded to Mr. Ergen’s move by spreading word that the company was preparing to file for bankruptcy and had hired bankruptcy and restructuring advisers. Company officials also privately told investors that Sirius has entered a “zone of insolvency” and that a bankruptcy filing would be preferable to cutting a deal with Mr. Ergen, according to people who participated in the discussions.”

The New York Post has since gotten into the game, and all three papers reported on Wednesday the appearance of a “white knight” in the form of Liberty Media’s John Malone, who controls DirecTV.

With these papers probably taking turns to report the latest developments on this story, we’re all in danger of getting whiplash.

Keep an eye on:

  • The Federal Communications Commission approved the spin-off of Time Warner Cable from Time Warner Inc. That can only be good news for Jeff Bewkes, who can now focus all his attention on selling off AOL. (Reuters)
  • The merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster has raised political hackles, but the groups are out to defend. (Financial Times)
  • The media’s love affair with Twitter, or at least writing about it, continues, with yet another takeout on the microblogging site. (The New York Times)

(P.S. A subscription may be required to access The Wall Street Journal stories.)

(Photo: Reuters)

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