Friday, February 12, 2010

LA Times Columnist's 'FU' To His 'Jackass' Newspaper Boss Sam Zell

By Gillian Reagan

Dan Neil, a Los Angeles Times auto critic and columnist, just left the paper to join the Wall Street Journal. He released a particularly fiery exit memo yesterday, taking a jab at the Los Angeles Times' owners, Sam Zell and co. at the Tribune company:

From: Neil, Dan Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2010
To: yyeditall
Subject: Dan Neil on the bounce

Friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters,In the past week or so people have come up to me and said words to the effect: “The Journal, huh? Sinking ship and all that?” And I just want to slam their heads in a car door.

I absolutely love this newspaper and I am immensely proud of my association with it. People who talk shit about the LA Times to me are going to find me in their grille in a major way.

Maybe you don’t know this story. In November 2002 I had just come through an awful divorce (we pronounce that DEE-vorce in North Carolina). I was sitting heartbroken and alone in a villa in the south of France, on some godforsaken travel assignment, contemplating the taste of gunpowder. Nobody knew where I was. The phone rang. It was former editor John Carroll, who had somehow tracked me down. He wanted me to come to Los Angeles and be the paper’s car critic.

Well, I said to him, as it happens my schedule has just opened up.

It was the beginning of the most wonderful professional experience of my life, the most fun, the most satisfying, the most intellectually challenging. This placed saved me. It made me.

It’s been a rough few years here, mainly because of the jackasses in Chicago who own us. To them I say, with as much gusto as I can muster in an email, fuck you.

On a happier note, there’s not a person in this building I do not like, if not love. The paper has more greatness ahead of it, and I’ll be watching from the east coast and rooting you on.

If you are able and inclined, there’s a beer call at Redwood tomorrow, around 5 pm. Hope to see you there.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Dan Neil

Neil won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2004, so he's certainly a pro at harsh insights. But this isn't his first run-in with Zell.

In 2008, Neil participated in a class action lawsuit against Zell, with several former LA Times employees (Neil was the only one who still worked at the paper) seeking to force the Tribune boss to relinquish control of the company, according to Portfolio.

"This is basically a workers'-rights issue," says Dan Neil, an automotive columnist* who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work at the Times.

The suit hinges on what he and his fellow plaintiffs allege is Zell's misuse of the employee stock ownership plan through which Zell was able to acquire a controlling interest in Tribune for a mere $500 million.

"The ESOP law was not written so companies could be taken over like this. It's an abuse of the ESOP structure and, I think, a fairly obvious effort to avoid paying taxes."

Zell responded to the lawsuit with a statement that denounced the suit's allegations as "frivolous and unfounded" and cast the employees' actions as an affront to team spirit.

See also:
How Sam Zell And Tribune Management Screwed Employees

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