Matt Taibbi: Public Unions Need to Stop Poisonous Koch Brothers From Buying Tribune Papers

Unions have the clout to stop the sale. Will they use it?

Photo Credit: Graphic by Rachel Dooley. Copyright In These Times magazine. All rights reserved.

As you may have heard, the Koch brothers have set their sights on destroying what remains of the free press. They considering buying one of the biggest media groups in America – the Tribune papers, which comprise eight major publications, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. This would allow the Kochs to spread their right-wing nuttery even more effectively than they do now.

As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi points out in a recent article, public unions could put a stop to this. Private equity firms and banks are the major shareholders in the Tribune Company, and some of those entities are heavily dependent upon investment from public unions. The Kochs, of course, think of public unions as Public Enemy #1. As Taibbi explains:

“The Koch brothers have always taken powerful and unequivocal stances against public sector unions and their retirement plans. They were primary financial backers of Scott Walker's anti-union movement in Wisconsin, where the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity group engaged in massive ad buys and signature-collecting campaigns to back Walker's play to crush collective bargaining rights for public workers. Through direct donations and support of groups like the conservative state policy group ALEC, the Kochs have taken aim at public unions, public union lobbying and public pensions in multiple states across the country, among other things spending $4 million in California to support Prop 32, a state ballot measure restricting union political activity.”

Two of the major stakeholders, Oaktree Capital and Angelo Gordon & Co, are investment management firms that manage billions of dollars of public pension funds. The Kochs will not be able to make their purchase without the go-ahead from these union-dependent companies. Oaktree, as Taibbi explains, has a client list that includes California’s CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) and CalSTRS (California State Teachers' Retirement System), along with pensions from several other states and major cities.  Angelo Gordon's clients also include CalSTRS and a slew of giant public pension funds. Taibbi writes:

“What this means, essentially, is that public-sector workers in the very cities and states where the Kochs plan to take over these iconic newspapers will in a sense be subsidizing or enabling the sale by keeping their monies under management with companies like Oaktree and Angelo Gordon.”

Taibbi reports that some of these groups have already contacted Oaktree and Angelo Gordon to voice concern about the potential sale. For the unions, the sale would mean an all-out propaganda war against them. They have the political clout, through their retirement plans, to keep it from happening. But will they use it?

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Lynn Parramore is an author and cultural theorist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.