Columbia Journalism Review
Did Tribune Make
Reject A Deal
Some Questions for Tribune (and Sam Zell)
CJR’s roadmap to the Blagojevich complaint
By Clint Hendler
On Monday, Tribune Company, the jobs-shedding media conglomerate, filed for bankruptcy, casting a heavy cloud over its future.
But then came Tuesday, and the two count federal criminal complaint against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, which describes an attempt by the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, to leverage at least $100 million in state funds for the Chicago Cubs—owned by Tribune Company since 1981—in exchange for changes to the paper’s editorial page, possibly including firing the entire board.
What was Tribune’s response to this corrupt bargain? We don’t know. But, according to Harris’ reports to his boss, it wasn’t a plain, firm, “No.”
That, along side the rest of the complaint, raises a lot of uncomfortable questions to which Zell presumably knows the answers. Until we hear from him, the implications aren’t pretty.
The governor’s scheme looks like it was hatched during a series of taped phone calls in early November. The indictment describes how Blagojevich suggested that an advisor compile a package of the Chicago Tribune’s negative coverage of his administration, and pointedly raise it in a discussion of the Cubs assistance. But even that veneer of subtlety gives way in subsequent conversations. “Our recommendation,” the governor says in one, “is fire all those fucking people, get ‘em the fuck out of there and get us some editorial support.”