Whenever two Goliath firms merge, their officers announce to the press that it is "a perfect fit." What makes it a perfect fit is that the president of one company will make a billion dollars on the marriage, and the CEO of the other company will get the same.

In the case of Time Warner and America Online, we have been asked by their people to believe that the public will benefit from the coupling.

"How," I asked a Wall Street security analyst, "will we benefit?"

"The price of popcorn where Warner Brothers movies are playing will immediately go down, and there will be no charge for extra butter. Then, when everyone benefits, the price of popcorn will go up."

"Why is that?"

"When you're dealing in mega-billion-dollar mergers, there is no such thing as a free lunch."

I then asked the analyst how the merger will affect Time Inc.'s magazine publications such as Time, People and Fortune.

"It will have no effect at all. If People has a story to tell about Ted Turner, they will print it, as long as there are no squawks from Jane Fonda. The editorial decisions will be left to each publisher, who will only have to report to five corporate vice presidents from each company."

"Does Wall Street believe that bigness is better?"

"It does on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but it doesn't on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not only is the merger a bonanza for the executives, but it also makes lawyers and investment bankers very, very rich. All the bankers have to do is sweep up junk bonds on their floor every night, and they can charge their clients a fortune."

I kept pursuing the questioning. "What does America Online hope to gain by cloning with Time Warner?"

"It hopes the two companies can eventually control the world."

"And then what?"

"Then everyone can play golf together."

"Where does all this leave Walt Disney?"

"Either AOL will buy Disney or Disney will buy Time Warner or Sony will purchase Mickey Mouse."

"Is there an antitrust problem?"

"How can there be an antitrust problem when AOL is online and Time Warner is offline and CNN is in Atlanta?"

"What about HBO?"

"HBO is very important in the merger. The original idea for AOL-Time Warner came from a leftover 'Sopranos' script."

(C) 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate