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The Los Angeles Times reports today that flashy billionaire Ron Burkle, supermarket mogul and alleged sex-jet-riding former pal of Bill Clinton, is the "leading contender" to buy showbiz trade Variety. Burkle, who owns The Enquirer and BlackBook, and has dabbled in other media outlets like Radar, has offered $40 million for the publication.

Reed Elsevier, the Dutch mega-company that owns Variety, was looking for $50 million, but Burkle's $40 million is the highest offer they have so far, reports the L.A. Times's Ben Fritz, one of the many former Variety film reporters who have moved through its newsroom over the last decade. Another company vying for the longtime Hollywood reporting fixture is PMC, the burgeoning media company owned by automotive heir Jay Penske. That would be an interesting sale, as PMC is the parent company of Variety competitor Deadline.com, Nikki Finke's infamous (but increasingly toothless) Hollywood gossip/news site. Both are interesting potential buyers in that they both present potential minefields of conflicting interest.

Burkle owns a large chunk of Relativity Media, an independent production entity that partially finances parts of numerous studio releases (Mirror Mirror and 21 Jump Street, just to name two recent credits) and has started an entertainment-based branch of his investment firm. Meaning Variety would be reporting, or not as the case could potentially be, on the doings of some of its sibling companies. Plus Burkle just has that whole sorta sleazy party-boy (party-man?) vibe about him that could tarnish the still reasonably respectable daily. And Penske owns a suite of entertainment sites — Deadline, TV Line, Movieline — that could mingle awkwardly with the venerable old-guard Variety.

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