NYT Inside the Comcast-GE Deal

The New York Times is just flat-out impressive this morning on the Comcast deal for NBC Universal.

Its Andrew Ross Sorkin is so keyed in to his sources, you sometime wonder if he’s got bugs planted up and down the Street (close access bears fruit on stories like these, but can be a problem in the larger picture).

Sorkin and Tim Arango give readers a you-are-there feeling. Here’s the lede:

The secret meeting was set for an early July afternoon in a condominium along the ninth hole of a golf course in Sun Valley, Idaho. Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, arrived first, taking care to avoid being spotted by his own employee, Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, who was mingling with other executives nearby.

Ralph J. Roberts, the 89-year-old co-founder of the cable giant Comcast, and its chief operating officer, Steve Burke, arrived 15 minutes later.

The gathering, which had been brokered by James B. Lee Jr., a vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase, was set up for one purpose: Mr. Immelt, who had resisted the urge to sell NBC for years, was finally ready to sell. For months, he had been in discussions with Mr. Roberts’s son, Brian, Comcast’s chief executive. But now, at the investment bank Allen & Company’s annual media conference — known for big deal-making — he wanted to hear it from the mouth of the company’s patriarch.

“Do you want to do this?” Mr. Immelt, dressed informally in a polo shirt, asked Mr. Roberts, who was wearing his trademark bow tie, and Mr. Burke, who was Mr. Immelt’s classmate at Harvard Business School.

“Yes,” Mr. Burke said.

Mr. Roberts, who founded Comcast in Tupelo, Miss., in 1963, said: “I’ve done a lot of deals in my life. Every deal has its time. This is the right time.”

Contrast that with the Journal’s more prosaic one.

Brian Roberts assembled his top deputies and advisers on Oct. 25 for a gut check.

The chief executive of Comcast Corp. was in the home stretch of negotiating a deal that would give his company control of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal.

Mr. Roberts asked his team to consider worst-case scenarios. What if NBC Universal’s broadcast-TV business declined? What if its studio faltered?

In less than three hours, Mr. Roberts decided to proceed.

But Sorkin and Arango aren’t done:

The deal was a long time in the making and was filled with meetings at the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia, in New York City apartments and on helicopter rides. It also featured code names: G.E. was Green, NBC was Navy, Vivendi was Violet and Comcast was Crimson (because of the Harvard link).

At this point, that’s just showing off.

We’ve panned the over-emphasis on deal stories in the press before. But it’s hard not to be impressed by this level of detailed reporting, which is similarly on display in Sorkin’s new book.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.