Duke University senior threatens ‘student action’ if Koch brothers buy newspapers

A Duke University student has threatened “student action” if billionaire brothers Charles Koch and David Koch purchase a host of well-known newspapers owned by the Tribune Company, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

The ambiguous warning came after the student, senior Lucas Spangher, talked this week for 40 minutes with Duke trustee Bruce Karsh, reports The Chronicle, Duke’s student daily. Karsh is also the president of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest Tribune Company debt holder since the company exited bankruptcy at the end of 2012.

Karsh, a Duke alum, called Spangher from London at midnight after Spangher had contacted him. The transatlantic chat left the Duke senior disgruntled.

“The conversation was fairly unproductive or negative,” Spangher told The Chronicle. “His primary purpose for calling me was to explain his side of the story rather than listening to my arguments.”

Karsh presides over a $77.1 billion global asset management firm and donated $50 million to Duke in 2011.

According to Spangher’s bio at Takepart, he really likes green energy and once won second place in an obscure science competition. He also used to be a columnist for The Chronicle.

Charles and David Koch are titans of American industry who have donated large sums of money to conservative, libertarian and free-market groups.

Spangher’s goal had been to convince Karsh not to sell the Tribune’s bevy of newspapers to the Koch brothers. The senior objects to the sale because, he says, the magnates have provided financial support for academic studies that dispute climate change.

Karsh reminded The Chronicle that no buyer has stepped forward to buy the Tribune Company or the troubled media firm’s newspaper assets.

“The company (not me!) announced that it is exploring strategic alternatives,” Karsh wrote in an email. “It also said that no sale to anyone was imminent.”

Spangher remains wholly unconvinced. He worries that the sale of the Tribune Company’s newspapers to the Koch brothers will tilt coverage in those rags on the issue of climate change against his point of view.

“I told him that students are watching — Duke is aware of the situation,” Spangher told The Chronicle. “I appreciate the things he’s done for Duke, but if this goes down, there could be student action.”

A separate staff editorial also published in The Chronicle this week both parrots and expands Spangher’s argument.

The Chronicle’s editorial calls Charles and David Koch “notorious” for “aggressively pushing right-wing policies,” It charges that the MIT-educated businessmen “dwell on the very fringes of the ideological spectrum.” They “deny the existence of climate change.” They even “donate heavily” to conservative political candidates.

“We fear that their purchase of Tribune will jeopardize the free flow of information in the U.S.,” the fearful editors add.

The concerned editors “strongly urge Karsh to reject” any potential sale of Tribune newspapers to the Koch brothers. They recognize that, of course, Karsh has a fiduciary duty to Oaktree Capital shareholders. Nevertheless, they argue that keeping newspapers out of the hands of two conservative, libertarian businessmen is “a more pressing social and moral responsibility.”

Opposition to a potential sale of Tribune Company newspapers is not limited to Duke’s Gothic postcard of a campus. In the last two months, people who don’t want the Koch brothers to own certain large newspapers have organized in a few places to demonstrate.

In late May, for example, dozens of protesters assembled across the street from the swanky Beverly Hills Hotel to object to the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to the Koch brothers. As The Hollywood Reporter explains, they marched to Karsh’s nearby mansion while struggling to chant anti-Koch slogans.

The Beverly Hills rally was coordinated by leftist activist Lauren Steiner. The Reporter notes that Steiner is a neighbor of Karsh’s in ritzy Beverly Hills. Steiner’s LinkedIn page boasts that she was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement in the Los Angeles area.

In still other Koch brothers media rumor news, the chairman of the Star Tribune told MinnPost, a local online paper, that the current ownership regime of Minnesota’s largest broadsheet may sell to the Koch brothers.

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