4:52pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Al Gore Sued Over Current TV Sale to Al Jazeera (Exclusive)
Current TV's $500 million sale to Al Jazeera has prompted a lawsuit that claims co-founder Al Gore originally was opposed to the deal but had a "change of heart" on selling his cable network to oil-rich Qataris.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court by John Terenzio, who presents himself as a highly regarded media consultant, executive and TV producer who conceived the idea for the distribution of an American version of Al Jazeera.
Now, Terenzio claims that he has been cut out of the lucrative deal.
Read the full lawsuit here.
Terenzio, who says in the suit he created China Central Television and reprogrammed it for American audiences, alleges that in late 2011, he presented a proposal for Al Jazeera titled "Path to U.S. Distribution" by Richard Nanula, a principal in Colony Capital. The purpose of the presentation was to explore potential financing and joint venture partners for the project.
Terenzio says that in June, he identified Current TV as a potential acquisition target for Al Jazeera given its vast distribution network and well-publicized financial woes.
At Terenzio's direction, Nanula is said to have approached Richard Blum, a member of Current's board of directors (and the husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein), who was interested because "he and other Current investors were concerned about the prospect of losing their shirts in the financially troubled Current."
Terenzio says he met Blum in July and presented "a step-by-step approach for making the sale of the liberal media outlet to Al Jazeera palatable to U.S. lawmakers, pro-Israel factions, cable operators and, most importantly, the American public."
The lawsuit claims that the structure proposed and the strategies developed were the same ones developed by Terenzio for CCTV and that there was a "mutual understanding that Terenzio would be compensated if Current TV utilized his idea to consummate a sale to Al Jazeera."
The presentation was left with Blum to show other Current investors, according to the lawsuit. Blum is said to have opined that Gore might find a transaction with Al Jazeera "politically unappealing" but that he would present it to the former U.S. vice president.
What happened next likely will generate much conversation given that Gore has made the media rounds defending the sale. According to the lawsuit, "Plaintiffs are informed and believe that Gore was adamant in his rejection of the proposal to sell his liberal, environmentally friendly network to the oil-rich Quataris who owned Al Jazeera. Apparently, Gore had a change of heart."
Terenzio said that without his knowledge or approval, and "notwithstanding Gore's original objection," Current was sold to Al Jazeera on Jan. 2.
Indeed, in a series of media appearances to promote his book latest book, The Future, Gore has defended Al Jazeera’s editorial independence from its patron, the royal family of Qatar, which has derived vast wealth from Middle Eastern oil. During a Jan. 29 interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, Gore conceded that he understood the criticism but added: “I disagree with it. I think Al Jazeera has, obviously, long since established itself as a really distinguished and effective newsgathering organization. And by the way, its climate coverage has been far more extensive and high-quality.”
Lauer pointed to a passage in Gore’s book that criticizes television newscasts for taking advertising money from oil companies. “Well, I get the criticism,” Gore responded. “I just disagree with it, because this network has established itself. It’s objective, it’s won major awards in countries around the world, and its climate coverage, as I said a moment ago, has been outstanding and extensive."
The plaintiff in the lawsuit says he has confirmed that the Current sale was "motivated by Terenzio's presentation and that the transaction was patterned on the structure proposed to Blum."
Terenzio is suing for breach of implied agreement, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit ("what one has earned"). He's seeking $5 million for each cause of action. The lawsuit was filed by Ellyn Garofalo at Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz in San Francisco.
THR has reached out to Current TV for comment and will update with a response.
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