Rumors have been flying for the last several months that Jon Huntsman Sr. is involved in a group or partnership putting together an offer to buy The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sen. Dabakis' Facebook revelation has yet to be confirmed, but word is spreading that a deal is being struck and the LDS Church-owned Deseret News will allow Huntsman Sr. and another shadowy figure to buy its troubled business partner The Trib this summer, if not sooner.
Dabakis back peddled a bit Wednesday:
The unconfirmed rumor going around is that the Deseret News is feeling the heat and that it would not veto Jon Huntsman Sr.--if he decided to buy the Tribune. The trouble is, Jon Huntsman Sr. is not saying anything. We love Mr. Huntsman and he has the reputation as a truth teller and frankly, a bit of a billionaire rabble-rouser. However, this is just a rumor. If the Trib is for sale, the details ought to be made public. The D News should not decide who will own their competitor and the sale ought to be open. There are at least three fully qualified Utah people who have expressed an interest in the Tribune.
Whether or not this comes to be, and before Sen. Jim Dabakis and the rest of the savethetribune.com petition signers exchange high fives for saving independent journalism in Utah—let’s take a moment to think about it.
First, Huntsman Sr., is not to be confused with former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., except that they share the goal of getting little Jon elected president. Senior is a member in good standing of the LDS church who doesn't eat street tacos, have cute daughters, throw Dawali celebrations, praise Hinduism and Buddhism and listen to Captain Beefheart tunes.
The few verterans left at The Salt Lake Tribune will remember with a shudder when the paper in 2004 had the temerity to investigate Huntsman’s plastic manufacturing operations in Texas and ugly allegations that folks in surrounding communities may have contracted cancer from what was being cooked in the plants. The story was headlined: Huntsman paradox: Cancer claims vs. cancer research.
Here's an exerpt:
"...It is polluters like Huntsman's Port Arthur, Texas, petrochemical plant that Tilley blames for menacing her community with skin rashes, burning eyes, asthma and, yes, cancer.
It is perhaps inevitable that the self-made Utah billionaire and philanthropist elicits such wildly different opinions. Through business, politics and charitable endeavors, he has touched thousands of people around the world.
In his home state, Huntsman is as close to royalty as you get: rich, a member of the dominant Mormon faith, influential with community leaders and generous. His name adorns cherished programs and buildings, from the annual amateur Huntsman World Senior Games in southern Utah to the cancer research center and hospital at the University of Utah.
In Texas, however, the same name marks chemical plants that release tons of toxic chemicals into the air.
Philanthropist. Chemical plant owner. Jon Huntsman is both. He is a complex man, yet one who sees himself in the simplest terms: He does good. Period."
Senior Huntsman did NOT like that bit of independent investigative journalism. In fact, he bought a full-page ad in opposition to The Tribune's story, which most Tribbers thought was nice because it brought in advertising dollars and made The Trib look fearless and independent. (Then somebody in the broader Huntsman organization apparently launched an even more aggressive damage control response that I’m hoping the Trib will be independent enough to recount if and when they report on the Huntsman Sr. deal.)
The other rumored partner in the deal, whose name I dare not speak, has even more ominous and complicated ramifications for "saving" The Trib.
"Free the Trib" from an onerous joint operating agreement rally is planned for Saturday, 1 p.m. at the City County Building.
Full disclosure: I worked for The Trib and the Deseret News.