Falcone Crest: Spotted at Media General

bulls1.jpgWe poked a little fun at Harbinger Capital Partners honcho Phil Falcone for not being the most communicative guy when it comes to dealing with some of the companies that his hedge fund is busy badgering. Let us therefore be the first to tell you when he actually does show up.

Falcone made an appearance at Mario Gabelli’s investor forum on Tuesday at the Harvard Club in New York, where Media General’s chief executive Marshall Morton and Harbinger Vice President Joseph Cleverdon laid out their competing visions for the newspaper publisher and broadcaster’s future.

Falcone sat in the second row and didn’t ask any questions, according to a well informed source. Later, Morton approached Falcone, but it wasn’t quite the SALT talks. Here’s Morton’s account:

“I went up to him, and said, ‘Are you Philip?’ And he said, yes he was.”

It’s a start.

Morton, meanwhile, had few good words for Harbinger’s presentation. You can read most of it here, but he also shared some of his other views with us:

Falcone takes raincheck on newspapers

stearns.jpgMost everybody in the U.S. newspaper publishing world knows Philip Falcone’s name nowadays, but it’s not entirely clear that he knows theirs. The Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund manager’s notoriety comes from bankrolling efforts to secure large positions in the New York Times Co and Media General Inc, and then shake up the publishers by trying to get his own nominees elected to their boards.

At Media General, this has generated rancor not just for what the Richmond Times-Dispatch publisher sees as an unwanted assault, but for Falcone’s full schedule making him too busy to even meet the top executives whose strategy he’s trashing. Instead of responding to their overtures, he sent his colleague Joseph Cleverdon as his proxy.

We were unsuccessful in reaching Falcone as well, and Harbinger was too busy working on other projects to respond to Media General Chief Executive Marshall Morton’s letter to shareholders explaining why Harbinger’s bid to elect rival directors to the board was something only slightly better thought out than the Bay of Pigs operation.

Media General: We’re not the New York Times

The New York Times made its peace with hostile hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners by nominating two members of its rival slate to its board, but a few hundred miles south in Richmond, Virginia, Media General declared war instead.

Media General Chief Executive Marshall Morton stopped just short of challenging Harbinger executive Philip Falcone to a duel, and instead derided the lack of experience of three board members that Harbinger is trying to elect to the company after building up an 18.2 percent stake.

Morton elucidated in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday:

- On why the newspaper publisher and broadcaster has suffered a 61 percent stock drop in the past year: Today’s world is a world where the customer is in charge, not us anymore. Media General was pretty early in figuring out that the customer was platform-independent.