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Time Warner blocks Jonathan Miller's appointment to Yahoo board

August 1, 2008 | 12:36 pm
Jonathan Miller

Late last night, as we were wrapping up our profile of former AOL Chief Executive Jonathan Miller, we learned that Miller's appointment to Yahoo's board wasn't the sure thing that everyone thought it was. Although Miller is a confidant of Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang and has been widely seen as a logical candidate to take the reins if Yang were to step down, we heard that Time Warner, allegedly after initially saying he could join the board, was poised to block his appointment by invoking the noncompete clause in the contract he signed at AOL. Two people close to the situation told us that they were still hoping they could work something out during the eleventh-hour negotiations so Miller could join the board. So just before our print deadline we worked this into the story:

After much speculation that he would join Yahoo's board, two people familiar with the situation said Thursday that he might not. Miller and Yahoo declined to comment.

Well, Time Warner just confirmed that it has indeed blocked Miller from joining Yahoo's board, saying the contract he signed with AOL prevented such a move. Miller was pushed out of AOL in November 2006.

"When Jon Miller signed his contract, it specifically said that upon payout of the contract, he could not work for a variety of competitors, including Yahoo, until March '09," Time Warner wrote in a prepared statement.

Spokesman Keith Cocozza flatly denied that Miller had been told he could serve on Yahoo's board, saying, "No one ever gave him the go-ahead."

This could come back to bite Time Warner, which has been talking with Yahoo and Microsoft about a merger of its AOL division. Some might think that Time Warner was using the Miller contract as leverage to improve its chances of selling AOL to Yahoo: Basically, do a deal and we'll give you permission to add Miller to your board. But a person familiar with Time Warner's thinking said that wasn't the case. The person noted that AOL and Yahoo compete fiercely and that Miller is well-versed in sensitive information about AOL.

A Yahoo spokesman declined to comment today at the company's annual shareholder meeting.

The fallout from this one will be interesting.

In a story just published on its website, the New York Post cited our Miller profile as part of the reason for Time Warner's move.

As Miller's name circulates as not only a potential Yahoo! director, but also as candidate to replace Yang as CEO should the latter be pushed aside, Time Warner's CEO is throwing cold water on any such talk, having invoked Miller's non-compete agreement Friday.

Sources familiar with the situation viewed the favorable press that Miller has been getting, which included a flowery profile in the Los Angeles Times, as a campaign coordinated between him and former AOL corporate communications boss Jim Buckley, who left the company with Miller in 2006.

"He's running for a job he knew he couldn't take," said one source.

We should note that Miller didn't grant us an interview for the story, and his camp wasn't in favor of us writing it because they were concerned it would look like he was lobbying for the board seat. But we decided to write it anyway.

-- Jessica Guynn and Joseph Menn

Photo: Jonathan Miller. Credit: Lou Reed

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