Sure, I might have picked a nit with him now and again. But David Geffen is one of the most generous people in the history of Los Angeles, having given millions of dollars to medical research and various cultural enterprises. And I’m not just saying that because he wants to be my boss.
I’m saying it because it’s true.
It’s also true of the magnanimous Eli Broad, not that Broad needs a toot from a lout who’s banged him around on occasion. Last time I looked, Broad’s name was plastered on everything but the Hollywood sign and City Hall, thanks to years of saintly giving and civic-minded arm-twisting.
And I’m not just saying that because Broad, too, is said to be interested in buying the Los Angeles Times.
As is Haim Saban, the mogul who brought “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” to America and “Desperate Housewives” to Germany, a portfolio of human achievement just one newspaper short of perfection.
All this alleged window-shopping by the trio of billionaires is very flattering. I thought the newspaper industry had been given up for dead now that America’s future leaders are getting their news from a nightly TV show on Comedy Central.
Then I read my colleague Jim Rainey’s story, which reported that Geffen, perhaps the most aggressive of our suitors, had met with Tribune Chief Executive Dennis J. FitzSimons to say that he was interested in dipping into his piggy bank to buy The Times.
“And I told him it was not for sale,” said FitzSimons.
With all due respect to Mr. FitzSimons and his capital S, we all know that everything is for Sale. Rainey’s sources say that Geffen hasn’t lost interest, and one of his motivations in attempting to buy the paper is a desire to correct what he sees as the paper’s unfair treatment of him.
I can understand that. Twice now I’ve gotten less than sparkling book reviews in the New York Times. If only I’d bought the paper after the first one.
As for Geffen, I couldn’t imagine what unfair treatment he was talking about until Rainey laid out a couple of possibilities. Maybe Geffen didn’t like our editorial calling DreamWorks SKG a flop, Rainey wrote, or maybe he got ticked off at “columns by ... Steve Lopez that chastised Geffen for failing to open a public access way next to his home on Carbon Beach in Malibu.”
Wait a minute, am I the dunce who wrote those columns?
I could have sworn it was T.J. Simers.
To be honest, I’m really having a terrible week. First, I get a thousand barking readers who wrongly accuse me of having killed a dog in New Orleans, and then I find out that three guys I’ve taken batting practice on want to buy my newspaper. With my luck, it’ll turn out that Geffen, Broad and Saban all have poodles, or that Arnold Schwarzenegger will join the crowd and try to buy The Times.
“You really think Geffen would fire you?” asked my wife.
She obviously had not read the Geffen biography “The Operator,” which listed the body count of people who crossed Geffen and then felt his wrath, including Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, Elton John, Cher, Robert Towne, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
The young fellow who wrote the book, newspaperman Tom King, died unexpectedly a few years later. At the age of 39.
All I have to say is that we can all learn from our mistakes. Sure, I might have called Geffen, Broad and Saban hypocrites for passing themselves off as Democratic do-gooders while denying convenient public access to the beaches near their gazillion-dollar compounds. But in their defense, you can’t get as rich and powerful as those guys without kicking people aside at times and believing wholeheartedly in your own rationalizations.
“Everybody’s in it for their own gain,” as Mitchell wrote in “Free Man in Paris,” a song inspired by Geffen, who helped launch her career. “I deal in dreamers, and telephone screamers, lately I wonder what I do it for.”
You do it for the good of mankind, David -- an ideal that never crossed the minds of anyone at that rinky-dink California Coastal Commission. Now that you’ve given up the good fight and opened the gates to the beach, who’s going to clean up after the riffraff who turn exclusive coastline into a landfill for empty Bud Light cans and Cheetos bags?
Those who want to throw money at The Times have been heard to say a newspaper deserves local ownership, and Geffen reportedly suggested he’d be happy with more modest profits. This means there’s no way he could ever be a joint owner with the Tribune Co., because a statement like that at a board meeting could land him at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Now that DreamWorks SKG seems ready to roll the credits, Geffen could use some new partners. If he hooked up with Saban and Broad to buy my newspaper, we could become the Times SBG. Another arrangement might involve Geffen, former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan -- another unhappy subscriber who’s expressed an interest in starting his own newspaper to set the record straight -- Arnold Schwarzenegger and Broad.
The GRAB editor would of course be Arnold, given his extensive column-writing experience and editorial leadership of two of the world’s best muscle magazines.
Those of us who work here are split as to whether we’d prefer local ownership by an ego-driven private wannabe who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or corporate geniuses based somewhere in the Midwest. Given the size of our own egos, we all believe, naturally, that an employee-owned newspaper is the way to go. But the unbridled enthusiasm wanes after a water-cooler conversation that usually runs something like this:
“You got any money?”
If you’ve got time on your hands and cash to burn, like Geffen, Broad and Saban, give us some consideration, will you?
We’ll work for practically anyone.
Steve Lopez writes Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read previous columns at www.latimes.com/lopez.