Logan jokes mirthlessly, “If I were Jeff, I would follow Dick’s advice—I would go ahead and shoot myself.”
Bewkes, for his part, has good reason to be gunning for someone. He’s not an anodyne suit: Bewkes didn’t hesitate, for instance, to leap into a spirited argument with conservative Supreme Court associate justice Antonin Scalia, when he happened to be seated next to the intellectually intimidating Scalia at a Manhattan dinner party in November 2005. Scalia was patiently explaining to Bewkes, a nonlawyer, why the correct way to interpret the Constitution was to employ the analytical methods of “originalism,” a rarefied legal theory in which jurists must divine the intent of a statute based on how reasonable people are likely to have understood the statute at the time it was enacted. “That’s bullshit, isn’t it?” Bewkes puckishly suggested. “Because you’re really not acting as a judge, you’re being a historian.”
Like many of Time Warner’s other top executives, to say nothing of thousands of lower-level employees, he had received much of his compensation over the past seven years in awards of stock and options. While Bewkes was in charge, the estimated value of HBO rose fivefold to more than $10 billion, and he was amply rewarded in stock. At one point in early 2000, he could have cashed out his options for more than $150 million, as he later told an executive from a rival media conglomerate. But he didn’t. Between 2001 and 2002 (when the price was more than twice today’s), Parsons sold $35 million in stock and bought a vineyard in Tuscany. Beginning in 2000, Case sold $156 million and Pittman unloaded $94 million in stock. But Bewkes held on, believing that it would have sent the wrong signal for a corporate biggie to be seen as dumping. Levin, too, rode his shares into the ground, apparently convinced they would recover and his vision would be vindicated.
Today, Bewkes figures his losses in the tens of millions of dollars. “What the fuck have I been working for all these years?” Bewkes complained bitterly to a friend.
“For everyone in the company the last four years with a strike price of seventeen bucks and change, their options are under water, and it’s put everyone in a very foul mood,” says an executive from the magazine division. “That kind of internal malaise is a problem.” But inside the company, Bewkes wins points for having suffered himself. And in contrast to the well-liked Parsons—who jokes that “the major difference between the two of us is he’s smarter, I’m funnier”—Bewkes likes to operate outside of the pomp and ceremony of the corporate kingdom, avoiding publicity (while carefully courting the financial press), and minimizing his use of perks like limos and corporate jets.
Bewkes’s friend Robert Shaye, the co-chairman of the Time Warner subsidiary New Line Cinema, says, “He’s a little bit hard to read in an interpersonal sense, but I don’t count that as being any serious liability. You don’t have to be a ‘hail fellow well met’ to be up to the challenge.”
Few suffered personally from the merger more than Shaye, who by some estimates lost hundreds of millions of dollars as the stock plummeted and he kept buying more shares on the way down. “I believed the snake-oil salesmen,” he says ruefully.
“I’m not going to betray any confidences, but Jeff is very anxious to be a creative businessman in the sense of exploiting and energizing the real assets of Time Warner,” Shaye says. “He’s going to do things that are going to be recognized as astute and clever moves to fortify the best assets of this company and to rid itself of operations that he feels—certainly with the board’s cooperation—are not in the best interests of the corporation.”