2015 Stanford University graduate Nika Soon-Shiong
While staffers nervously speculate whether Union-Tribune owner Patrick Soon-Shiong will block the purchase of Chicago-based Tribune Publishing by hedge fund Alden Capital, the usually muted billionaire has unleashed his fury against American racism.
Thursday's rebuke on CNN comes as the deadline to close Alden's deal for Tribune nears, with a host of fellow billionaires lining up behind a competing bid for Tribune that has driven the company's stock to a new recent high of $18.02.
As the owner of about 24 percent of Tribune's shares, Soon-Shiong is in a position to veto Alden's takeover - opening the way for the putative new deal - or take Alden's apparent sure offer of $17.25 per share. The competing group, including hotel mogul Stuart Bainum, Hansjorg Wyss, and Mason Slaine, says it will pay $18.50 a share.
"I think Patrick will side with whichever offer will pay him the most money," Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post columnist Keith Kelly quoted an unnamed source as saying Thursday.
Until the CNN interview, money, not politics, was widely expected to determine Soon-Shiong's final decision, but his latest remarks have caused talk that the biotech magnate may be shifting left, with significant repercussions for both the U-T and the L.A. Times, also owned by Soon-Shiong.
"I came from South Africa, where I saw [racism] growing up. The difference, in a funny way, is that it was Apartheid, but it was Apartheid in the open," Soon-Shiong told CNN. "I thought we were coming to the land of the free. And frankly, I've been completely disenchanted."
"This unconscious bias and racism is pervasive. It's almost inherent, sadly, in the historic fabric of this country," he continued. "We have to recognize that, accept it, and then break it."
"Unfortunately, the Asian culture and mentality is to just suck it up. Do your work. Do your thing. Be quiet," Soon-Shiong added. "I don't think that can happen any longer."
Under a scenario floated March 4 by the Poytner Institute’s Rick Edmonds, Soon-Shiong, pressured by severe losses in San Diego and Los Angeles, would approve the Alden buyout and sell the California papers to the firm as well.
“Either that or Soon-Shiong faces an expensive and prolonged reboot. His wife and daughter are now involved in the billionaire’s unsteady guidance of the nation’s largest regional paper, several sources told me. Soon-Shiong has a president and chief operating officer, Chris Argentieri, but the Times lacks either an editor or a publisher to right the ship.”
A February 19 Wall Street Journal account - later dismissed by Soon-Shiong and daughter Nika, an informal Times advisor - quoted unnamed sources as saying the billionaire publisher might sell the papers.
"Mr. Soon-Shiong has also considered selling or transferring management of the San Diego publication to another company, possibly Alden Global Capital Inc.'s MediaNews Group, which owns several papers in the areas between the two cities," the story said.
It is the possibility of an Alden U-T sale that most concerns San Diego reporters and editors, who fear the hedge fund's legendary staff cuts. An Alden takeover might also end the U-T's newly found wokeness, as manifest in last September's front-page "public apology" by editor Jeff Light.
"This paper's predecessors abandoned their principles, standing by as Kumeyaay people were forced off their land; supported the internment of the Japanese during World War II; did too little to confront racism, redlining and exploitation through much of the 20th century," the editor proclaimed.
Now, the ascendence of 2015 Stanford University graduate Nika Soon-Shiong at the Times, is reassuring some that her father will keep papers and double down on their current path, despite mounting financial losses.
"It felt important to speak out because of how disruptive that kind of misinformation can be to people who have entrusted us with the stability of the paper," said Nika in an email quoted by The Daily Beast April 1.
"It's a lot easier to plant rumors that something might happen than to assure people it won't, so a Tweet seemed like a very small thing to do."
As the U-T is subsumed more and more into Soon-Shiong's L.A. operation, Nika's influence is likely to be increasingly felt in San Diego if her father keeps the papers.
"Society's inheritance of patriarchal, white-led institutions shouldn't condemn us to pernicious cultures or processes," she told the Daily Beast. "Not if we figure out together what it would look and feel like to lead differently—from the heart."