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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Will Thane Ritchie—Chicago Hedge Fund Guy, Political Gadfly, and Almost-Chicago Bear—get Newsweek?

A.R. Thane Ritchie, founder and CEO of Ritchie Capital Management, LLC—headquartered in Wheaton, where he also lives—is trying to buy the venerable but money-losing Newsweek magazine. The 44-year-old Ritchie’s bid—a nonbinding letter of interest that he placed on his own behalf, not his company’s—was one of four submitted by…

A.R. Thane Ritchie, founder and CEO of Ritchie Capital Management, LLC—headquartered in Wheaton, where he also lives—is trying to buy the venerable but money-losing Newsweek magazine. The 44-year-old Ritchie’s bid—a nonbinding letter of interest that he placed on his own behalf, not his company’s—was one of four submitted by Wednesday’s deadline to representatives of the Washington Post Company, which has owned the magazine since 1961. 

The other bidders are conservative publisher Newsmax Media; OpenGate Capital, a private equity fund that bought TV Guide for $1 in 2008; and Sidney Harman, the 91-year-old founder of audio equipment-maker Harman Kardon and husband of California Congresswoman Jane Harman.          

Newsweek, which has lost $44 million since 2007, is not the first media property Thane Ritchie has tried to buy. He failed in 2009 in his run at the Sun-Times Media Group, losing to Mesirow Financial CEO Jim Tyree. In that case, Ritchie did not go away quietly; rather, he tried to get a bankruptcy judge to reopen the bidding, calling it a “a travesty” and charging that “he was wrongly blocked from forging a proposal with union officials before a deadline passed.”             

In late 2009, he was quoted as saying that newspapers should not be treated like other recession-hit industries like housing or autos. “Its ink is the lifeblood of our political system and democracy, as our Founding Fathers emphasized by enshrining only this commercial endeavor by name in our Constitution,” he said. (Ritchie’s biological father is former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, who coauthored The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court with Bob Woodward; Ritchie was adopted by his stepfather, famed options trader Joe Ritchie.)

As his remarks indicate, Ritchie has politics on his mind. Last March, after President Obama’s healthcare bill finally passed, Ritchie—a supporter of Ross Perot and the Reform Party—declared that the bill showed just how broken the two-party system is. He announced the formation of a third party in Illinois and added that he intended, ultimately, to take it national. 

One of 10 children born in Elmhurst and raised in the Wheaton-Glen Ellyn area, Ritchie was an All-American linebacker at Wheaton College during his senior year in 1988. According to a 1993 Sun-Times story (not available online), he was recruited to the NFL but did not make any team’s roster. His spokesman Justin Meise said Ritchie was a Chicago Bears prospect, playing on the practice squad and in preseason games. He is also a former member of the U.S. bobsled team.

Ritchie has had his share of business problems. In December 2006, the New York Post headlined a story about him, “Hedge Blown Away—Katrina Sacks Fund.” According to the Post, Ritchie shut down his company’s flagship fund when it failed to recover from energy investments that went south post-Hurricane Katrina. “After topping out at $3 billion, Ritchie Capital’s assets dwindled to about $750 million over the past several months,” the article read.

In 2008, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Melissa Harris, Richie paid $40 million to the SEC to “settle allegations that he engaged in late trading of mutual funds.” He was never charged in the matter.

None of the four Newsweek bidders seem to be the ideal choice of the magazine’s staffers (Newsmax, for example, is said to be a favorite of Sarah Palin’s)—or its editor, Jon Meacham. The Pultizer-Prize winning biographer of Andrew Jackson, Meacham—who had attempted to transform the magazine from the traditional digest of the week’s news to a compilation of think pieces—was said to be rounding up some wealthy people to back him in a bid.   

Other famous names rumored to want to buy Newsweek—Mort Zuckerman, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim; and Bill Clinton’s billionaire buddies Ron Burkle and Haim Saban—also failed to bid.

Ritchie’s biography suggests that he is a man who seems attracted to lost causes. In April, he chaired a group that staged a “Save Hummer Motors in America” summit in Chicago to no avail. (General Motors, which owns the Hummer brand, rolled out the very last of its SUVs later that month.) Perhaps he’ll have better luck with Newsweek.

His spokesman told me that Ritchie was not giving interviews this week, but would likely be available next week.

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