Sam Zell: New WaPo Owner Won't Own 'Ink By the Barrel'

Sam Zell: New WaPo Owner Won't Own 'Ink By the Barrel'

The former owner of the Los Angeles Times and said chief Jeff Bezos, who purchased the Washington Post on Monday, will soon realize he actually does not own his paper’s ink by the barrel. 

In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network on Tuesday, Zell blasted newspaper reporters and editors who he said, from his experiences, have “this illusion” that they are doing “God’s work” and, “therefore, if you’re doing God’s work, you should get a pass on economic reality, you should get a pass when revenue goes down 30 percent, instead of lowering the head count, you should maybe increase it.”

Zell bought the Tribune Company in 2007 and his newspapers eventually went into bankruptcy. He told Cavuto he could not make the necessary cuts and changes to attempt to make his papers profitable because, “The problem comes down to some great philosopher, I think it was Confucius who said never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel.”

Cavuto remarked, “You own the barrel.”

In response, Zell said, “That’s what I thought, that’s what Jeff Bezos thinks.”

“What I found out and what he is going to find out is he doesn’t own the barrel,” Zell said. 

Zell said Bezos, who purchased the paper for a reported $250 million, may think “he’s doing this for the good of the country and that he thinks the Washington Post is a pillar of intellectual community and maybe it is.” According to Zell, though, it is “unlikely” the views of the “people who are writing the editorials in the Washington Post every day” are “going to change their views because they have a new owner.”

He said “newspapers people and academics” are similar and “arrogant” and believe they are held to different economic standards. He implied that even if newspapers are not selling because of some left-leaning political biases, newspaper reporters and editors do not care because, like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, they think they are doing “God’s work.”

“Based on my experiences, they had a lot of trouble adding and subtracting,” Zell quipped in talking about the bottom line. 

He said he was reviled because his failure with the Tribune Company proved that the old newspaper model was hardly economically viable. 

“In many respects, I’m like the little guy who pointed up and said the Emperor has no clothes,” Zell said. “The Tribune really began the whole demise of the newspaper industry because it became obvious because it wasn’t economically viable.”