Today the Oklahoma Publishing Company, publisher of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com announced that it has been purchased for an undisclosed amount by businessman Phillip Anschutz.
Who is Phillip Anschutz?
It’s a good question. The reclusive Denver billionaire has given only 2 interviews in the last 30 years. Anschutz was born in Russell, Kansas in 1939. He made his money on gas investments in Wyoming, but also has large stakes in film production (Walden Media), professional sports (Major League Soccer and the LA Lakers), and newsmedia. Anschutz has been a steadfast supporter of conservative social causes, and has given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and PACs each election cycle. Of the 162 businesses he owns, the most visible are theater chain Regal Cinemas and two recent acquisitions, the bay area free daily San Francisco Examiner and the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard.
Recent downturns in the newspaper industry have led to some speculation that Anschutz has begun dipping his toes into the media landscape not primarily to make a profit, but to promote his political beliefs.
When asked about Anschultz’s creation of the Washington Examiner and acquisition of The Weekly Standard, newspaper industry analyst John Morton told Politico last year “You have to look at what he’s doing as partly a reflection of some of his political convictions…Clearly, I don’t think that any rational person — and you’d have to include him among the rational — would view, right now, the newspaper business [as] an investment that would promise a good return.”
Initially giddy at the prospect of the exit of the famously Conservative Gaylord family from the local media landscape, reaction from local progressives has been wary as details about Anschutz’s political beliefs have filtered out throughout the day.
“Who is Philip Anschutz? Imagine Sally Kern getting a sex change and becoming a multi-billionaire.” local left wing activist David Glover posted on This Land Press’ website earlier today.
Anschutz is perhaps best known in conservative circles for his funding of the Colorado constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, his financial backing of the Chronicles of Narnia films, and large donations to “traditional values” promotion organization “The Foundation for a Better Life”.
In contrast to the sometimes bellicose Rupert Murdoch, from whom he purchased The Weekly Standard, Anschutz rarely comments publicly on his positions and contributions to political causes, preferring a low key, behind the scenes role.
The impact of the purchase on The Oklahoman and on the broader media landscape remains to be seen. The statement by OPUBCO stated that the upper management of the organization will remain intact, and that Anschutz will operate OPUBCO independently from his other media ventures.
Outside of The Weekly Standard, his Examiner publications (in Washington, San Francisco, and Baltimore) have been free dailies designed for quick reading, often in tabloid format and lacking page jumps. The conservative stamp can be seen in the editorial pages, which primarily feature syndicated conservative columnists.
The degree of influence and day to day management likely to be pursued by Anschutz at The Oklahoman remains a mystery, but Washington Examiner editor Stephen Smith told Politico that Anschutz is hands off. “I have never received a phone call or a note asking for a story,” said Smith. “I have never received a phone call from Phil that he didn’t like a story. He is really at a macro level. I am at a micro level.”