Zell Era: Now For Something Completely Different

Nobody really knows what to expect from Sam Zell when he takes the reins at Tribune Co., but I think it's safe to say that, good or horrendous, it's going to be a hell of a lot more interesting than anything the button-downed and oh-so-corporate entity that owns the Sun-Sentinel has ever done before.

One clue, though, is Zell's hiring of Randy Michaels, a man who took his name from a radio jingle (the name he was born with is Benjamin Homel). Michaels is by all accounts a pioneering shock jock and brilliant businessman who built Clear Channel into the evil empire of radio. Michaels is responsible for two of the more grotesque figures crawling about the national media landscape, Sean Hannity and Dr. Laura. But, hey, he makes money. And he isn't dull. A 2001 Salon article by Eric Boehlert on the rise of "big bully" Clear Channel quotes a radio executive on Michaels: "Everything's a food fight with him. He's paranoid, disingenuous, pathological. That's what makes him so lovable."

Paranoid, disingenuous, pathological ... that doesn't sound so different than what's in charge now, come to think of it. But there's no doubt about it: Zell, with Michaels' help, is going to shake this company up like a dirty martini. Let's just hope he remembers that good investigative journalism is the straw that stirs the drink.

Some believe Zell will sell (including a recent succinct commenter on the Pulp). I'm going out on a limb and predicting just the opposite: He's going to buy. I think the guy wants to become the biggest media lord in America, sort of the new William Randolph Hearst. I don't know whether to be excited or mortified - I just know we're in for a ride.

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