After 92-year-old Newsweek/DailyBeast co-owner Sidney Harman died last week, the future of the money-losing media company seemed potentially up in the air. Harman’s co-owner Barry Diller assumed Harman’s position as chairman of the board, but a spot was still reserved on the panel for a representative of the Harman family. Sidney’s son Daniel was considered a possibility, as the 29-year-old was the only member of the family who’d actually been to visit the Newsbeast offices. But the company announced today that, in fact, Sidney’s widow, Jane Harman, would take the board seat. Until February, Harman was a Democratic U.S. representative for California.
Upon hearing the news, Adweek immediately frets: “The choice of Jane Harman immediately raises questions about what level of influence the former political figure will have, or seek to have, at the magazine, and just how Tina Brown, its strong-willed editor, feels about it.” But that seems a little silly. First of all, Sidney Harman pledged to not meddle with the editorial content of the magazine, and presumably that’s in a contract somewhere. (Admittedly, legal documents didn’t stop Rupert Murdoch from remaking the Journal in his own image.) And second, should having an established political stance prevent anyone from owning a company? It’s one thing to be a working member of Congress and sit on the board of a political publication — that’s a conflict of interest. It’s another to be a private citizen whose opinions happen to be known. If all such people were barred from media boards, pretty much every newspaper in New York would have to be put up for sale.
Oh, and third: Jane Harman may be a tough cookie, but there’s only one snappy broad with feathered hair running the Newsbeast, and that’s Tina.