Perelman offers to buy Inquirer

Posted: November 03, 2013

Raymond Perelman, the multimillionaire businessman and philanthropist whose name adorns schools and cultural institutions across the region, said Friday that he again wanted to buy The Inquirer and its parent company.

The goal, he said, is to end the strife between two factions of partners in Interstate General Media, who are battling in court for control of the company's three media properties.

"Something has to happen," Perelman said. "The feuding can't continue."

There were no immediate signs that his offer was being considered.

Perelman, 96, has pursued The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com before. His latest expression of interest comes amid the ongoing legal battle between co-owners George E. Norcross III and Lewis Katz.

Katz and co-owner H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest filed suit against Norcross and three other partners, seeking a court order to reverse the firing of Inquirer editor William K. Marimow.

Earlier this week, the feuding sides each offered to buy the other out of the partnership. Lenfest and Katz brushed aside as a "publicity stunt" a $29 million offer Wednesday from Norcross and his allies to buy their combined 42 percent stake, a $3 million increase over what they invested when the company was formed in April 2012.

The two then challenged the Norcross group to a winner-take-all bidding process. Norcross said his group was not interested in selling.

Perelman is the only outsider to go public with an offer to invest in the company. Leaders of the Newspaper Guild, the union representing the newsrooms and other IGM employees, have said they are seeking new investors to try to end the impasse.

Union officials have declined to name the prospects, but confirmed that Perelman was not among them.

Perelman said he had talked with Norcross about his interest and would offer to buy out Katz and Lenfest - but was interested in the whole company.

"I'd like to buy them all out, but I don't think all of them will sell," Perelman said. He added that it would be a cash deal.

No investor would lose money, Perelman said, but he declined to say how high a price he would pay.

"The sad part of it is, they're all great guys," Perelman said of those in the dispute. "It's a shame, but these things happen. People get entrenched and they're not going to move. I thought I'd step in to see if I can help."

In 2010, Perelman and the Carpenters Union pension fund bid for the three media properties in a bankruptcy auction. They lost out to a group of hedge funds and investment banks that held the company's debt. He sought to try to buy the paper last year as well, but was not allowed to bid.

Lenfest said Friday that neither Perelman nor any of his representatives had contacted him with an offer, and that his stake was not for sale.

Also Friday, top IGM executives released to employees internal documents to counter media reports that Norcross, using reams of market research to back his position, had pushed to cut the opinion section of The Inquirer from two daily pages to one.

"As the attached e-mails make crystal clear ... the decision to reduce the editorial page was not a decision dictated by the ownership group and when pressed to reverse it, they said no," publisher Robert J. Hall and associate publisher Michael Lorenca wrote in a companywide e-mail sent late in the afternoon.

The documents included selected e-mails suggesting that the reduction was made by Hall on Marimow's recommendation.

"Marimow directly told staff I had ordered this change (false) because he did not want to be blamed for his own decision," Norcross wrote in a Sept. 4 e-mail response to Katz sent out Friday by the company officials.

Marimow responded Friday night, "Anyone who's worked with me knows that unless there'd been outside pressure, I never would have reduced the editorial pages."

Norcross gave him research that recommended reducing the pages to once or twice a week, Marimow said, adding, "It's deeply troubling to me that executives of IGM are continuing to besmirch my reputation."


tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

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