Aaron Kushner Promises a Great OC Register But Will The Boston Investor Pass The Sincerity Test?

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Nixon: Kushner? Sounds like another dirty Jew to me...
How is this for news enough to make Tricky Dick Nixon roll over fuming mad in his Yorba Linda grave?

Aaron Kushner--the under-40, Boston-area man and Georgia native whose private investment firm has bought The Orange County Register--consults with Ben Bradlee.

Isn't Bradlee the legendary determined Washington Post editor who helped bring down Nixon's presidency during the Watergate corruption scandal?

Well, no. Ben Bradlee ran the paper in the nation's capital, but Ben Bradlee, Jr. is a longtime, acclaimed Boston Globe editor.

This distinction, missed by me earlier this afternoon, might not be that apparent or comforting in Orange County's notorious right wing circles.  

The mere Ben Bradlee name is sure to fuel liberal media conspiracies for the bluehairs, trust-fund babies and John Birch Society offspring sipping their stiff toddies and bitching about Mexicans, communists, IRS agents and Democrats at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

Meanwhile, current Register editor Ken Brusic is unwittingly predicting his own demise.

The new owners are dedicated to "quality" journalism, says Brusic, the man who has helped to guide the paper into--how can I put his nicely?--embarrassing and ever-declining mediocrity.

If onetime Texas Gov. Ann Richard knew the Reg editor, she might have opined that he couldn't pour water out of a boot with a hole in the toe and instructions on the heel.

Under Brusic's leadership, for example, the paper's management will eagerly send, by their own admission, "more than 100" staffers--a "flash news mob"!--to cover a terribly critical news event, such as new attractions at Disney's California Adventure, but can't find the motivation to dedicate one competent reporter to cover a brazenly corrupt sheriff.

So what's out there on the new owner? The most comprehensive article about him is a February 2011 Boston Magazine story dismissively titled, "Paper Tiger." Reporter Katherine Ozment described Kushner as a clean-shaven, handsome, lean man prone to empty but forceful talk. According to Ozement, the Stanford University graduate exhibited "youthful exuberance." At the time of the interview, he lived in a $1.7 million Boston house with his wife and three kids. 

Ozment's report may provide valuable insight into Kushner's plans to rebuild the Register. During his push to buy the Boston Globe, he admitted that making a profitable paper in the current economic climate is a mystery. "You know," he told Ozment, "the reality is that there isn't today a good, clear model about how you profitably grow a newspaper."

Kushner's most substantial business experience is in the media . . . well . . . if you count selling religious and inspirational greeting cards.

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New Reg King
Does the fact have any relevance to current Reg staffers?

Ozment's weighty piece describes how Kushner's 2005 takeover of Renaissance Greeting Cards swiftly resulted in cold-blooded firings in which, according to one of the company's employees, staffers were lined up "like cattle" and fired without explanation.

Stories like that might delight the Orange County Republican Party, Newport Beach billionaire Don Bren and Orange County Business Council corporate lobbyists, but there's still that unsettling Bradlee connection for the county's establishment.

The Globe's Bradlee told Ozment that he believes Kushner understands that a region's main daily newspaper should be a "prized civic asset."

For OC journalism's sake, we hope Bradlee's assessment is right. But there's a simple, foolproof test of Kushner's sincerity: Will he keep or replace Brusic at the helm of the county's struggling flagship news outlet?

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