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Hopes to Raise $150,000 for Long-Term Fight With Network : Fairness in Media Seeks Funds for CBS 'Siege'

April 02, 1985|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Fairness in Media said Monday that it has begun a new fund-raising campaign aimed at accumulating a war chest of $150,000--of which it hopes to collect $32,000 in the next two weeks--to finance what it now calls a long-term "siege" of CBS Inc.

R. E. Carter Wrenn, one of the conservative group's founders and a longtime aide of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the organization's ideological mentor, said letters started going out Monday to Helms supporters and other conservatives seeking funds to help find backers among CBS' 24,000 shareholders.

In a separate development Monday, New York financier Ivan F. Boesky and a group of companies he controls disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that they hold an 8.7% stake in CBS.

But the Boesky group, which often buys shares of companies perceived to be takeover targets, said its purchase of CBS stock was not for the purpose of acquiring control of the company but rather "to be supportive" of CBS management.

Fairness in Media's latest drive to raise money came as a CBS spokesman described executives of the network as feeling that "Fairness in Media has been driven from the field; they've been crushed."

That conclusion was the result of the organization's announcement last Friday that it had dropped plans for a proxy fight at CBS' annual meeting April 17.

But Harry F. Weyher, a New York-based lawyer for the group, said, "Our effort is not an attack on CBS but the beginning of a siege we recognized would take two years or maybe three."

Wrenn and Weyher said Monday that Fairness in Media soon will file a legal complaint claiming that CBS has violated federal proxy solicitation rules through network advertisements promoting the "accuracy, objectivity and fairness" of Dan Rather's reports as anchorman of the CBS Evening News--the principal target of Fairness in Media's contention that CBS' news reporting harbors a liberal bias.

Fairness in Media will argue that the Rather ads, as well as Evening News reports of CBS' legal moves in the battle with the group and speeches by CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman denigrating the campaign, constitute illicit proxy solicitations.

Fairness in Media, organized late last year by Wrenn and two other Helms aides--James P. Cain and Thomas F. Ellis--began a campaign to influence CBS' news coverage with a letter issued Jan. 10 over Helms' signature.

Helms urged conservatives to buy CBS stock and vote it to "take control of the company," an SEC filing said. In practice, the campaign was aimed at waging a proxy fight at the April 17 meeting to gain a seat on CBS' board.

The group made CBS its target, Wrenn said, because it perceived the network as more liberal than either ABC or NBC.

In support of that perception, Wrenn cited an Aug. 27, 1983, survey published by TV Guide magazine purporting to show that CBS had broadcast, during the first week of May, 1983, 26 "negative" reports about Reagan Administration policies compared to NBC's 17 and ABC's 16. The networks had each broadcast about the same number of neutral and positive stories, the article said.

Unlikely Target

Fairness in Media shares headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., with the National Congressional Club--which, as Helms' fund-raising group, raised $9.7 million in support of conservative politicians in 1984--and with Jefferson Marketing Inc., a Helms-inspired advertising company. Wrenn is executive director of the National Congressional Club, of which Ellis is president. Cain, a lawyer, was employed by Jefferson until Dec. 31, 1984.

Wall Street analysts consider CBS an unlikely target for a takeover campaign by a group like Fairness in Media because any such undertaking is so expensive that few investors are likely to join one without a persuasive financial rationale.

"To work and get backers, something like this has to be a good financial deal and well structured, not politically motivated," said Sharon Armbrust, an analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, a firm specializing in evaluating broadcast properties. Most Wall Street analysts estimate that a full-scale campaign for control of CBS would cost $4 billion just to accumulate stock.

Any hostile takeover attempt would face the daunting scrutiny of the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies, a process that could take a year or more. That is a time period that could discourage even carefully financed raiders.

Just to gain a seat on the CBS board--assuming Fairness in Media sets its sights on that target--would require a 5% stock holding at the very least and probably 10% or more. At the current price of about $110 per share, that means gathering support among shareholders with $160 million to $325 million in stock--one clue to why Fairness in Media now talks less about getting conservatives to buy stock and more about finding supporters among CBS' 24,000 shareholders of record.

"Our feeling is a good many of those existing owners share our feelings," Cain said in an interview.

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