Tribune Dragged Into Illinois Governor Scandal

FBI Wiretaps Indicate Blagojevich Attempted to Fire Editor at Chicago Daily

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, arrested today on corruption charges, believed his office had cut a deal with Tribune Co. management to fire a Chicago Tribune editor responsible for editorials critical of the governor, according to an FBI complaint against the governor.

Rod Blagojevich
Rod Blagojevich Credit: AP
In a statement today, Tribune said that no members of the company had acted inappropriately and noted that the staffing of the editorial board has been unchanged since 2000, with exception of one voluntary resignation.

"No one within Tribune Co. has ever complained to me about the positions taken by our editorial board, or attempted to influence our coverage of the governor in any way," said Gerould Kern, editor of the Chicago Tribune. "It should be clear to anyone reading our recent coverage of the governor and his administration that it is fair, balanced and factual."

Incriminating recordings
Whether those gripes found their way to Mr. Kern, somebody connected to Tribune was listening to them, according to the complaint. Transcripts from wiretaps of the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, show that Mr. Harris told the governor he had conversations with an unnamed financial adviser to Tribune about the removal of the editor. The transcript indicates Mr. Harris was left with the impression that the suggestion was being taken seriously, and that the desired job cuts could come as part of the larger downsizing effort at the struggling publisher, which filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday.

One reason Mr. Harris may have had the unnamed financial adviser's attention was posturing by Mr. Blagojevich over the possible withholding of "substantial state funds" related to the sale of Wrigley Field, the home stadium of the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs.

The complaint describes a Nov. 3 phone call between Mr. Blagojevich and an unnamed deputy governor in which "Rod Blagojevich's wife can be heard in the background telling Rod Blagojevich to tell Deputy Governor A "to hold up that fucking Cubs shit ... fuck them.' Rod Blagojevich asked Deputy Governor A what he thinks of his wife's idea. Deputy Governor A stated that there is a part of what Rod Blagojevich's wife said that he 'agree[s] with.'"

Greasing the wheels
It continues, "Deputy Governor A told Rod Blagojevich that [Tribune Owner] will say that he does not have anything to do with the editorials, 'but I would tell him, look, if you want to get your Cubs thing done, get rid of this Tribune [editor].'"

"Tribune Owner" is an apparent reference to Sam Zell, the company's chairman-CEO.

During a late-November phone call with Mr. Harris, Mr. Blagojevich asked if "[Tribune Financial Advisor] is on top of this, right?" the transcript says. "Harris replied that Tribune Financial Advisor said they would be 'downsizing the division or changing personnel' and that Tribune Financial Advisor understands and '[Tribune Owner]' understands," the complaint states.

The editor, John P. McCormick, was never replaced. The complaint also alleged that Mr. Blagojevich sought to reap personal financial gain from appointing the Senate successor to president-elect Barack Obama. "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden," Mr. Blagojevich said of the seat. "And, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for fuckin' nothing."

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