Does Rupert Murdoch Want to Buy the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune?

Signals are mixed about whether Rupert Murdoch wants to add the papers to his empire

 

News Corp. denies it is in talks to buy the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, but the company is interested in the two papers, a person familiar with its plans told TheWrap.

The Wall Street Journal, the crown jewel of News Corp.'s U.S. newspaper holdings, first reported the company's interest last week.

The company issued a statement over the weekend denying it is in talks with Tribune Company, which owns both papers.

But NewsCorp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is in the process of breaking off his newspaper and publishing division from the more-lucrative television and film arm of his company. One reason is that the separation would make it easier for the newspaper division to buy more papers, the person familiar with the company's plans said.

"Part of the rationale for splitting off a publishing company is that they'd be well-capitalized and in a position to make strategic moves like that," the person said.

The Tribune and the Times have both run stories saying Murdoch is a leading suitor. 

News Corp. on Sunday said "reports that News Corp. is in discussion with Tribune or the L.A. Times are wholly inaccurate." But it didn't address the narrower question of whether the company was interested in the papers.

Oaktree Capital Management, which recently took control of Tribune's main radio and television assets, declined to comment. Tribune did not reply to calls and emails seeking comment, but declined to comment to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week.

After nearly four year in Chapter 11, Tribune showed some signs it may soon emerge from bankruptcy when it transfered lucrative assets to a group of financiers led by Oaktree.

One potential stumbling block: The Federal Communications Commission may prevent News Corp. from purchasing the papers because it already owns KTLA in Los Angeles and WGN-TV in Chicago.

Owning the papers would allow Murdoch, a noted conservative, to expand his political influence in the second and third-largest cities in the U.S.

He already owns the Times of London, the Sun tabloid in London and the New York Post, as well as the Journal.

But the British phone-hacking scandal, which led to the shuttering of the News of the World tabloid, has slowed Murdoch's media expansion overseas. Public pressure forced him to abandon a bid to take over the BSkyB satellite channel in Britain.