Sam Zell comes off a little touched in the head, sure. The 66-year-old new Tribune CEO has a short fuse and a fast mouth, both of which landed him in hot water this week with close observers of his first steps at the helm of the sprawling media company. Did Zell declare it "un-American not to like pussy" while defending his plan to allow strip club ads back in the LATimes? Entirely possible! But so what?
The arrival of an unrepentantly blunt owner has always caused mass garment-rending in newsrooms. When owner Mike Lacey introduced himself to Village Voice staffers, he told them to get ready to say goodbye to their friends. It didn't help that he reportedly did it with his cowboy boots propped up in their faces. People still talk about the time Lacey walked into the L.A. Reader and called everybody in the place a cocksucker. Philadelphia Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney's tirades at reporters are legendary, and media magnate Si Newhouse was no boy scout.
We're quite sure there are mild-mannered cuddly billionaires, but we haven't met them yet. Resurrecting a sprawling corporation stuck in a flawed and flagging industry involves unpopular decisions and requires some serious chutzpah. Tribune's probably too far gone to be righted no matter how much Sam Zell swears at it, but it's hard not to get a kick out of watching the little guy give it his boorish best. Besides, who hasn't wanted to call a media exec an overpaid motherfucker?