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Relentless Cable Mogul John Malone Works Behind The Scenes


Now let's hear about a billionaire with a big stake in what you hear and see every single day. John Malone controls some of the best-known media and entertainment brands in the country. Now, he wants to strike gold where the cable and broadband giant Comcast struck out. Malone is behind the proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable by the much smaller Charter Communications. It is possible you've never heard of this man, so NPR's David Folkenflik brings us this profile.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: When John Malone does talk publicly, it invariably serves a purpose. Here was his exchange last November with CNBC's David Faber back when Comcast plans to buy Time Warner Cable looked on-course.


JOHN MALONE: I think it's highly likely that the charter will be the gravitational center of consolidation because Comcast, if this deal's approved, is pretty much maxed out - OK? - in terms of the U.S.

FOLKENFLIK: Faber asked whether expansion would involve selling his global cable holdings to Comcast.


DAVID FABER: Are you, one day, going to sell Liberty Global to Brian?

FOLKENFLIK: Brian being Comcast chairman and CEO, Brian Roberts.


MALONE: Or maybe Liberty Global will buy Brian.

FABER: Would Liberty Global be large enough to buy Comcast?

MALONE: You never know.

FOLKENFLIK: Revenge is sweet. Malone had actively sought Time Warner Cable before Comcast made its play and then bided his time until federal regulators derailed Comcast's plans. Now Malone intends to combine Time Warner Cable, the company's second-largest cable and broadband provider, with his Charter Communications and the smaller Bright House. Hugh Panero worked for Time Warner's cable companies for roughly two decades and cofounded XM Satellite Radio.

HUGH PANERO: He is a person who, when you are negotiating with him, I think everybody sort of embraced the fact that you were probably playing checkers while he was playing chess. And you're never quite sure what his endgame was, but it clearly was more sophisticated than what you thought your endgame was.

FOLKENFLIK: The 74-year-old executive is called Dr. Malone by many people at his Denver headquarters, a nod to his engineering PhD from Johns Hopkins. Malone got his start in the 1960s at AT&T's Bell Labs, became a consultant for McKinsey and Company and then built what became the nation's leading cable provider, TCI. He later sold it to AT&T. Malone is a billionaire many times over, whose companies own or control the Atlanta Braves, Starz TV and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. He also has a stake in Barnes & Noble and the Discovery Channel. And yet, Panero says, Malone has no emotional stake in any of his properties, unlike rival media moguls Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone.

PANERO: I think he's a pure businessman. Many of the media titans are driven by ego and power and narcissism and money. Dr. Malone is driven by what's the best deal he can do at that moment.

FOLKENFLIK: Over time, Malone rebuilt his cable holdings and sought to gain traction in broadband, but he has repeatedly flipped properties like Transformer toys at a kid's birthday party, often to avoid taxes. Jarl Mohn worked for Malone as the CEO of Liberty Digital.

JARL MOHN: He's leveraged into and out of things and typically will take positions that he owns in a company and swap those positions for a stake in something else that's more important to his grand strategy.

FOLKENFLIK: For what it's worth, Mohn is currently my boss as CEO of NPR, and he thinks Malone won't stand pat. It's not in his nature.

MOHN: This is not the end. This'll be, I think, the beginning of even more consolidation on his part.

FOLKENFLIK: Malone's politics run to libertarianism. He's a board member of the influential Cato Institute, and Malone strongly opposes corporate taxes and government regulations. The irony is Malone would never have had the opportunity to engineer a takeover of Time Warner Cable had federal regulators not killed the Comcast deal. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.