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Sumner Redstone: How Crazy After All These Years?


Redstone and Karmazin announcing their 1999 merger: Who was in control?Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Just how nuts is Sumner Redstone? Clearly quite nuts, or at least quite senile. But there’s also a chance he hasn’t been quite as nuts, for quite as long, as today’s Times suggest. Yes, yes: He’s probably trying to oust his daughter and heir apparent, Shari, from their companies. And yes, yes: He summarily fired Tom Cruise last year and then ousted Tom Freston. But perhaps he hasn’t always been quite this bad. Consider one of the best anecdotes in the Times story:

In 1999, at a news conference for Viacom’s purchase of CBS, Mr. Redstone interrupted Mel Karmazin, CBS’s chief executive, by blurting “I’m in control! Remember — I’m in control!” into a microphone. Despite being widely considered Mr. Redstone’s successor, Mr. Karmazin left the company in 2004.

We were amused, and intrigued, and wanted to find out what happened next in the press conference. So we went to trusty Nexis, where we discovered something interesting.

That quote, rendered that way, appeared only once before, in a September 8, 1999, Los Angeles Times story by Michael Hiltzik, where it was placed merely “on national television,” not necessarily at a press conference. And the only citations prior to that are from a CNNfn interview Willow Bay did with Redstone and Karmazin on September 7, 1999, the day the deal was announced:

Bay: It’s a reunion. Now you — Viacom is not paying a premium for CBS. Did that give you pause?

Redstone: May I, I’m going to let Mel answer that, but I want to give you my point of view.

Bay: Okay.

Redstone: The premium that will exist will be in the future growth of this fantastic global media giant and I say we — there is no one that can approach on the planet, but.

Bay: And.

Redstone: Wait a minute.

Bay: Okay.

Redstone: I’m in control. [LAUGHTER.] Seriously, but if this is a great deal for Viacom think about it? What are the CBS stockholders going to get? Viacom stock.

Now, it’s entirely possible Redstone in the interview is making light of something he’d said at an earlier press conference — something he said that somehow didn’t make it into any of the subsequent press coverage. Or else it’s possible that Hiltzik merely lifted the CNN quote, mangled it a bit and called it “on national television” so as not to have to credit CNN or Bay, and the Times repeated Hiltzik’s misquote today, entirely missing that it was a joke on an interview show rather than a tantrum at a press conference.

Of course, that still doesn’t mean the dude’s not nuts.

Family Feud at CBS and Viacom [NYT]

Sumner Redstone: How Crazy After All These Years?