Or is he just an investor?

Maybe that's a silly question to ask, but I think it gets to the heart of what's happening at the Tribune Company. The troubled publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

I don't have anything against investors, and Zell is obviously a brilliant one. He sold Equity Office Properties Trust, the country's largest Real Estate Investment Trust, to Blackstone for $39 billion just before the mortgage meltdown. REITs—like many of Zell's investments—are extremely tax efficient. In fact, much of Zell's career has been about finding brilliant (if sometimes questionable) ways to protect himself and his companies from governmental interference.