Conflict-of-interest Time?

Time Warner Inc. chairman Gerald Levin and vice chairman Ted Turner have frequently criticized News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch’s editorial interference in his publications, but the forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair suggests Time Warner may be guilty of the same.

The magazine reported that Time Warner CFO Rich Bressler last summer asked American Lawyer topper Steve Brill to kill a story about Federal Trade Commission director William Baer planned for one of Brill’s legal newsletters. Baer at the time was reviewing Time Warner’s acquisition of Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.

At the time, the legal magazines were 70% owned by Time Warner, although Brill was in charge of their day-to-day management. Last February, Brill sold his 20% stake in the magazines to Time Warner, which is now trying to sell the group.

Bressler last summer told Brill he was making the phone call “at our leader’s behest,” according to Vanity Fair, which has a copy of a memo Brill wrote about the call that was produced by News Corp. in litigation it is taking against Time Warner.

The memo reportedly quoted Bressler saying Levin was worried that the story on Baer “could endanger” the merger because “we are working hard on Baer, and anything that gets him nervous or makes him think we don’t appreciate him could hurt us.”

Brill took no action about the Baer story, he said in the memo. Brill did not deny the existence of the memos to Vanity Fair, but couldn’t be reached for comment by Daily Variety Tuesday.A spokesman for Time Warner said “we dispute Brill’s rendering of events,” but would not comment in detail on the allegations.

In a second memo from Brill to Levin in July, Brill complained that “this kind of attempted interference has occurred twice before.” An exec in TW’s law department asked Court TV, one-third owned by TW, to not cover a legal case involving Warner Music Group, while Time Warner counsel Peter Haje asked Brill to kill a story in American Lawyer magazine which might have criticized Time magazine’s reporting, Vanity Fair said.

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