Sidney Harman Dead at 92: Does His Politician Wife Own Newsweek Now?


Sidney Harman, the audio equipment billionaire, philanthropist and Executive Chairman of Newsweek since purchasing the struggling weekly magazine about six months ago, died on Tuesday after a brief fight with acute myeloid leukemia, his family announced today in a brief statement. He was 92. “I was intrigued by Sidney’s ideas and, like so many who encountered him, soon enough impressed at his charm and astonishing vigor,” writes recently departed Newsweek veteran Jonathan Alter in remembrance. But though the body is barely cold, the media world is already buzzing with speculation about Harman’s magazine, which has been called “embattled” for quite a while now and featured only six ads in its latest issue, not exactly promising news for a big-name glossy after a big-name merger with Barry Diller, Tina Brown and The Daily Beast. “The family’s commitment to the magazine he loved so much is solidly continuing, in partnership with Barry Diller and IAC,” Brown says in Alter’s obit. But it might be more complicated than that. Details inside Press Clips, our daily media column.

RIP: After buying the magazine for $1, Harman hired Brown, who brought her website along for the ride, making the businessman executive chairman of The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. But the baggage there includes as much as $70 million in liabilities, which forced Harman to admit that making money wasn’t necessarily an option. “I did not and do not think of this in traditional business terms,” he said upon his purchase. “The purpose of the investment is to provide fuel for the transition of the magazine in its current position into a thriving operation in the print, mobile and digital worlds.”

And as for who takes on those responsibilities after his passing, Harman told Keith Kelly in vague terms recently, “My family is deeply committed to this, not necessarily on a day-to-day basis. …But whether I am here or not, they are interested in owning the magazine.”

But Harman’s wife, former Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, who would presumably be the first in line, is not only busy helping to run the country (Update: Harman resigned effective at the end of February to serve as CEO of centrist think tank the Woodrow Wilson Center), but pledged upon Harman’s purchase not to touch the magazine in a statement to LA Weekly:

“Sidney was quoted recently as saying: ‘I don’t tell Jane how to vote and she doesn’t tell me how to run my business.’ That’s our rule and we stick to it. Of course I am proud of his long and successful career and believe that Newsweek and its enormously talented workforce will be in good and caring hands.”

Still, the Daily Beast’s spokesman Andrew Kirk told the Huffington Post, “Dr. Harman’s ownership stake in the Newsweek/DailyBeast company remains owned by his estate. …His estate will have the ability to appoint a replacement director to the board of the venture to represent its interest.”

In addition to his wife Jane, Harman is survived by his children Lynn, Gina, Barbara, Paul, Daniel, Justine, as well as Brian and Hillary, his two step-children. Any one of them could be Tina Brown’s boss soon.

RIP, Again: Elsewhere in media deaths, Charles Laufer, the founder of Tiger Beat magazine, died earlier this month at the age of 87. Laufer was a high school teacher in 1955, “despaired that his students had nothing entertaining to read,” and so he filled the hole with one of the most famous teen culture magazines of all-time.

Exclamation points, sometimes as many as 50 a page, added emphasis. Pix, as pictures were known, were glossy, glamorous and frequently poster-size. Fax, as facts were known, often included “101 things you never knew about (fill in star’s name)”: he uses a blue toothbrush!

Justin Bieber doesn’t even know how sad he should be.

AP Oops: The Associated Press published a fake press release from General Electric Co., which fooled the wire service for about half-an-hour today into thinking that the evil conglomerate would repay its $3.2 billion tax refund to the Treasury Department. In honor of Tiger Beat: As if!

NPR$: Despite making a mess of itself in both the Juan Williams and James O’Keefe manufactured controversies, which led to the resignation of CEO Vivian Schiller, and allowed Republicans in Congress to rant and rave wildly, the public broadcasting company is getting its government cash anyway, with $445 million gifted from Congress today to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Abortions and “Car Talk” for everybody!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 13, 2011


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