My hostile takeover of George Will's column, rumored in advance, nevertheless caught much of the opinion industry totally by surprise -- not to mention Will himself. He spied me standing in the gloom of the study we all know so well from the Newsweek ads, put down his china coffee cup and asked, "What the hell are you doing here?" I told him that I had taken over his column.
The new column, called WillCo, appeared in 508 newspapers -- 444 of them once Will's alone. Although deeply leveraged, the new column was thought by industry observers to have an excellent chance of success. The stock I issued went up, albeit on rumors that I was about to be taken over by Bill Buckley.
This hostile takeover was no different from any other. My problem was that I had some excess cash and relatively few debts (just a mortgage, home improvement loan, Visa and MasterCard). I knew that I was a ripe candidate for a hostile takeover myself, maybe from the rumored Buckley or, worse yet, Evans and Novak. I thought about poison pills or adding more debt to my balance sheet, but decided instead to construct a golden parachute for myself. It guaranteed me a payment of $33 million and a new bike for my son. That, I knew, would stop Evans and Novak, but what about Will?
I decided to strike first. Going to the credit union, I asked for a $300 million loan to take over the George Will column. My plan was to go for the entire ball of wax -- the newspaper column, the Newsweek column, the ABC commentaries and the speeches. I would sell off everything but the newspaper column and use the receipts from the sales to retire the debt. Then I would pay off Will's golden parachute ($1.2 billion) by floating junk bonds on the Euromarket to Eurotrash who live in the United States to escape terrorists they do business with at home. What the hell. That's the free-enterprise system.
Everything worked as I planned. I sold the Newsweek column and the ABC commentaries to John Chancellor, who became the commentator on both ABC and NBC. Rolling in dough and with my stock rising, I looked around for even more ways to increase my wealth and my power. I could have written more columns, done some magazine articles, written a book or become a magazine essayist, but I decided to buy Evans and Novak instead.
Once again, I struck without warning. With $200 million in borrowed money, I got the column, the seminars, the speeches, the newsletter, Bob Novak's appearances on "Meet the Press," "The McLaughlin Group," "Crossfire" and in the upcoming anti- communist epic set in Africa, "Novak of the Apes." I sold off everything but the movie, which no one would buy, took a loss on that ($312), but substantially reduced my det.
Now my column was appearing in 1,546 newspapers. I was seen on television 23 times a week. I wrote for Time, Newsweek and Cosmopolitan and limited myself to 14 speeches a week.
Still, it was costing me $3.4 million a week just to service the debt. On my Visa statement, where it said "minimum payment," they demanded $876,000. The credit union wanted to put someone on my board of directors, and I kept getting a weekly bill of $2 million from the investment banker, Felix Rohatyn, whom I've never met, and a $235,000 bill from his accountant. I paid them all.
The columnists who were left wrote essays about me. I was denounced by liberals for reducing the number of editorial voices and increasing my wealth while not producing anything. Conservatives defended me by arguing that I was making the column business more efficient, safeguarding shareholder equity (whatever that is), responding in mysterious ways to the invisible hand of the marketplace and becoming rich. As for me, I just thought I was selfish as hell, but I certainly wasn't going to write that.
The end came without warning. One by one, newspapers cancelled my column. My cash flow suffered. So did my sleep. I offered to sell George Will to Bill Buckley but Buckley, having bought William Safire, Ellen Goodman and Carl Rowan, was tapped out. I tried Sylvia Porter, but she wouldn't accept my collect calls. Finally, I called my mother and asked for her advice.
This is how I became an orthodontist.