Could Donald Trump really be thinking about a bid to buy the New York Times? New York magazine started the ball rolling this week with the report that Trump has had "more than one meeting" to talk about wresting the paper from the current kingpins the Sulzberger family.
"It would be a big change from Trump's usual business ventures of TV hosting, pageant mogul-ing, real estate and birtherism, " said the mag. And Huffpo sniffily filed the tale in the department of "Things That Are Not Going To Happen".
Business Insider called any Trump bid a "very expensive venture that will go nowhere." The Sulzbergers are not some loosely confederated, disenchanted clan like the Bancrofts were when Rupert Murdoch came calling for the Wall Street Journal.
"They are, to put it mildly, very involved with running the Times, and it would be very, very, very, very surprising if they let Trump, of all people, take it from them."
The Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman put the question to Arthur Sulzberger in Davos. His response: out-loud laughter.
Laugh away, Arthur. But people laughed at Robert Maxwell, the equally outspoken Czech, who ultimately acquired the Mirror Group in London - and was narrowly beaten by Rupert Murdoch in the battle for the News of the World.
Trump could probably do a New York Times acquisition financially. Forbes sets his net worth at $3.1 billion compared with a Times value of around $1.2 billion, Trump estimates his own wealth less conservatively at $7 billion.
Trump, asked if he was serious , about buying the New York Times, told Joe Hagan in a brief interview he wouldn’t comment on his intentions or strategy, deferring to a spokesman who said that Trump’s posture toward the Times was in the “evaluation stage.”
But Trump appears to have done homework on the finances of the Times, recounting the paper’s unsuccessful business investments of the past decade, said Hagan.
“They buy the Boston Globe for a billion-two,” said Trump. “Jack Welch and a group offers them $600 million for it and they turned it down, and now they’ll give it away for nothing. For literally nothing.”
“If you look at the unfunded [pension] liabilities at the Times and all the problems they have — if it weren’t the New York Times, you’d say it’s an insurmountable business challenge.”
Trump also recalled the sale of the Times' former headquarters in 2004, a building he called a “cathedral” to journalism:
“They sold that building for $175 million and a group I know flipped it for $500 million a short time later — and that’s what’s happening.”
Asked about the possible opposition of the Sulzberger family, which controls the Times through a special voting class of stock, Trump said, “I don’t think the family is getting along too well, as you know. I think there’s a lot of dissension in the family, and how can anyone be happy when you take a once-fabled newspaper and it’s in a state of total destruction?”
In Forbes magazine Jeff Bercovici offered Trump a million-dollar bet.
He said, "I could point out that, should the Sulzbergers wish to sell their prized ancestral heirloom to a Republican billionaire, they would certainly turn first to either Michael Bloomberg orRupert Murdoch, each of whom has considerably more money, a long record of successful media ownership and more palatable political views.
"On the other hand, I could note that Trump has long made clear his desire to have a greater voice in politics, putting himself forth as a presidential candidate a couple times, most memorably in 2011.
"Owning the Times would certainly give him that. I could also observe in passing that his son in law, Jared Kushner, has owned the New York Observer for six years."
He said he was going to offer his assessment of Trump’s bid "in language I know he’ll understand.
"Donald, I am prepared to pledge $1 million to the charity of your choice if you buy The New York Times."
"Are you serious about owning the world’s most influential newspaper? Don’t you want to help out your favorite charity? Then stop taking meetings about it and just do it. And don’t think you can get me on some technicality like buying a copy of The New York Times. It’s got to be The New York Times Co., and it’s got to be this year."
Bercovici said there will be those who say" I’m not in earnest about this bet, that I’m only offering it because I’m 100% certain that Trump has no serious designs on owning the Times and just wants to generate a little conversational fodder for his next CNBC segment. Those people are absolutely right.
"I hate to spell that out, but Trump has an unfortunate habit of threatening to sue people who don’t pay up on their obviously satirical bets. I don’t even have the money."