Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday that the investor group he organized to buy Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN) would consider establishing a "fire wall" to limit interference with the company's newsrooms.
Rendell made the comments to former Inquirer reporter Buzz Bissinger on WPHT-AM radio Monday.
During the interview, Rendell reiterated that he was not putting up any money to buy the parent company of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. "I don't have any money," he said.
In addition to Rendell, the prospective buyers include businessman Lewis Katz; Comcast-Spectacor L.P. chairman and Flyers founder Edward M. Snider; insurance executive and South Jersey Democratic leader George E. Norcross III; William P. Hankowsky, chief executive of Liberty Property Trust; and Krishna "Kris" Singh, CEO of Holtec International Inc.
Rendell had a reply for critics concerned about prominent businesspeople and forceful politicians owning the region's largest newspapers and website.
"You act as if this is the first time" powerful people with an "ideological bent" have owned newspapers, Rendell said, naming as examples former Inquirer publisher Walter H. Annenberg and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch.
Asked about the likelihood that articles about his investors or their interests "might get killed," Rendell said his group would "do something to assure the reportorial staff" that such interference would not happen. That could take "some form of pledge" or "outside review board" made up of academics or former newspaper people.
What would happen if an article were critical of Flyers management? "Ed Snider would have to grit his teeth" and simply accept it, Rendell said.
"Nobody wants to stifle news," said Rendell, who referred to recent incidents of that happening at the company. "No one in our group knew anything about it. Nor would we stand for it."
Last week, journalists from the three newsrooms issued a statement insisting that current and future owners must guarantee the integrity of news reporting.
Rendell said there was no certainty his group would succeed in its effort to acquire PMN from its current owners, led by two New York hedge funds, Alden Global Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Co. There is at least one other bidder involved in the sale, which Evercore Partners Inc. is managing.
As for what role Rendell would take should his group acquire PMN, the former Philadelphia mayor said he'd be chairman of the board. "The last thing I want to be is publisher," he said.
He also said he didn't anticipate "huge changes" in the newsroom staff should a sale be completed. "I didn't sign on to be Bain Capital," he said, referring to the private-equity firm for which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney once worked. Critics have accused Bain of job-cutting.