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Chairman of Starr enters paper chase

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Reports last week that Maurice R. Greenberg is interested in investing in media companies has made some wonder about his intentions (see story, page 23).

Some suggest the former American International Group Inc. chairman wants to control major media so he can get more favorable coverage. Others say he's looking to place a big bet with the assets he controls.

The target reported recently is Tribune Co., whose headquarters are just up the street from Business Insurance's Chicago office. That the Trib is attracting bidders is not surprising. It has been battling dropping newspaper circulation, as almost all papers have, and its revenues from publishing and broadcasting have been declining.

If Mr. Greenberg wants to acquire Tribune Co., he isn't alone. Gannett Co. Inc., the nation's largest newspaper chain, also is reportedly a bidder. Billionaire Eli Broad, who founded the SunAmerica financial services business that AIG bought, is said to be interested as well.

Personally, I doubt Mr. Greenberg is motivated by any desire to control editorial coverage. While he has criticized media for appearing to give New York Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer a pulpit, there isn't a newspaper in this country that would refuse to print Mr. Greenberg's side of the story.

So what is his motivation? My guess is opportunity. He knows how to succeed and has a limitless appetite for it. His accomplishments in turning AIG into the world's largest insurance organization were remarkable, and even at 81, he is continuing to build an insurance business through C.V. Starr & Co. Ltd. Starr International Co. Ltd., a separate company he chairs and that owns AIG shares worth more than $20 billion, is now an investment vehicle.

When I spoke with Mr. Greenberg earlier this year, he said SICO intended to invest around the world in a variety of sectors. "There's tremendous change going on in the world. Major companies are spinning off divisions. In some countries, the need for environmental improvement is critical, and the new technologies to deal with that we're very much immersed in some of that. Health care in many parts of the world is in critical need of improvement. We're looking at some of that. We're looking at a mountain of opportunities, in many countries where we have relationships going back many years," Mr. Greenberg said.

Investing in media could fit. To take advantage of emerging markets, businesses and consumers need information. Newspapers, for all their circulation woes, are still profitable, and broadcasters are finding new ways to reach people around the world. Whether he buys Tribune Co. or another media powerhouse, expect results.

'Never events'

On the subject of results, medical errors are outcomes to avoid. The Leapfrog Group, an employer organization focused on improving health care quality, last week unveiled a policy for "never events"--errors so egregious they shouldn't ever occur.

Leapfrog's policy calls for hospitals to apologize to patients and/or families affected by the event, report the event, analyze the cause and waive costs related to the "never event." Although rare, the National Quality Forum has created a list of 28 such events. They include: artificial insemination with the wrong donor sperm or donor egg, unintended retention of a foreign object in a patient after surgery or another procedure, surgery performed on the wrong patient and patient death or serious disability associated with a medication error.

We can only hope that health care providers take to heart the nature of their work and strive to prevent such events. "First, do no harm" is not in the Hippocratic oath that physicians take, but it's a great idea.