The thunder of Tuesday's arrest of Governor Rod Blagojevich has stripped naked the greed that exists in Illinois politics, leaving us to gape. Truly, this is a moment of great opera.
And there, amidst the carnage is Tribune Owner and his good friend Tribune Financial Advisor. What are we to make of them?
To start, let's layout the good. Promises by the person who styles himself Tribune Owner were made that the editorial status of the Tribune Co. newspapers would not be effected by his “ownership.” And, as related by John P McCormick to newsosaur.blogspot.com,
No pressure reached me, or my boss Bruce Dold, or his boss, Tribune editor Gerry Kern. The feds say somebody wielding power and money tried to muscle Tribune Co. at a difficult time for our industry – and didn't get away with it. The Tribune Co. was the object of a huge extortion attempt and didn't budge.
So far, so good. Although, I think that McCormick is jumping to conclusions. We can only conclude that there was no attempt to muscle the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune through the Tribune Corporation. Despite the lure of $100 million or more in financial benefits, Zell didn't attempt to shift the editorial desk of Bruce Dold from its focus on the alleged corruption of Governor Rod Blagojevich. And, as related in a news release from the Tribune Co., the company says the conduct of its executives and financial advisors was appropriate at all times.
That's even better. But, I'm disturbed by the words at the press conference yesterday by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald,
Question (from the news conference yesterday): Was it so imminent that that's why you had to step in?
Fitzgerald: There is an editor that they'd like fired from the Tribune, and I laid awake at night, worried whether I'd read in the paper in the morning that when there were lay-offs, that we'd find out that that person was laid off.
Complaint paragraph 85: On the morning December 5, 2008 ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “what’s the deal? So, do McCormick stays at the Tribune, huh?” HARRIS stated “we haven’t heard that he’s gone, so.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “I mean, those layoffs were minor (the December 4, 2008 Tribune layoffs).” HARRIS stated “well, I know they got a lot to do.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked “there’s still more coming?” HARRIS responded “yeah, they got a lot of cuts to make.”
According to the Washington Post, Zell told CNBC today that he has been contacted by the FBI but wouldn't give details. He also said as far as he knew, no pressure was ever applied to the writer, John McCormick.
But the demand wasn't just to apply pressure, it was to terminate McCormick. On Friday of this week we'll probably learn if there were more Chicago Tribune layoffs planned, as Harris expects. The Tribune always seems to lay people off on a Friday.
It isn't adequate for Zell to talk to distant cable stations and refuse to talk to his own newspapers. His world, unless I'm very mistaken, has shrunk. And in the present state, that could be just the start. What I'd like to know is whether there was a plan to sack McCormick. That's the allegation.
Mr. Zell, did the Chicago Tribune plan to terminate the employment of Editorial Board member John McCormick? Did you notify the FBI or your own newspaper's Metro Desk about the extortion attempt? Please respond to the following, from the Huffington Post:
You're a newspaper. The governor of your state--a governor who has had the stink of corruption on him for years--has his people call you up and directly state that they'll help you out if you fire members of your editorial board. It is a phone conversation that not only wipes its ass on the ethical lines it crosses, it also treats the First Amendment like it's optional. And you don't report it? Why?
There's only one reason: Zell was entertaining the offer.
Was the Tribune Co. considering the governor's offer?