Tuesday, December 09, 2008

‘No pressure on me,’ says Trib editorialist

John P. McCormick, today may have the most secure employment of anyone at the Tribune Co., or anywhere else in the newspaper business.

He is the sole individual named in the affidavit charging that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich bluntly demanded the firing of certain editorial writers in return for the governor’s support of a plan to finance Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. The plan never went forward.

“Fire those fuckers,” Gov. Rob Blagojevich is quoted as saying in an affidavit filed after he and his chief of staff were arrested on corruption charges in co-ordinated raids at 6:15 a.m. today at their respective homes.

John (left) was the only editorial writer identified by name in the statement laying out the charges against the governor, who also is accused of trying to shake down individuals hoping to be appointed to fill the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Despite suggestions in the affidavit that a “financial representative” of the Tribune Co. would carry the governor’s demands back to management, John said in an email today that no one at Tribune Co. ever sought to influence the tough stance taken by him and his colleagues against Blagojevich.

“No,” said John in response to a question about feeling any heat from management. “No one in any capacity at the Tribune, its parent company, its financiers, nobody” tried to influence him.

John said he had no inkling of the pending arrest of the governor or that his name would emerge in the affidavit. “I knew nothing about any of this until this morning, when, en route to work, I heard a radio bulletin that the FBI had taken the governor of Illinois into custody,” he said, adding:

“None of us yet knows all the details of what is alleged to have occurred in this squeeze play. What I do know is that 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. ”

John’s account was echoed by Gerry. “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,” he said in a press release. “It should be clear to anyone reading our recent coverage of the governor and his administration that it is fair, balanced and factual.”

As for John, he says, “I hope I'll still be able to report and write about public corruption.”

From his seemingly safe perch at Tribune Tower, it looks as though he’ll have an ample opportunity to do so as the trial of the foul-mouthed governor unfolds.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, for the first time Alan has posted something that makes my heart race for the future of newspapering: proof positive not only that someone is reading newspaper editorials, but also cares what they say, and reacts to them with some action. There is a glimmer of hope....

2:52 PM  
Blogger rknil said...

I guess I didn't view this as glowingly. I'm surprised Zell didn't give in to the demands, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were more to this story.

We're talking about someone who was redesigning and shrinking newspapers right before declaring bankruptcy. Today's articles (perhaps discussed in the next thread) even refer to Zell as "very smart" for the way he structured the acquisition.

I'm reminded of a quote from Westmark: "The scoundrel is no smarter than the honest man. He simply works harder at being bad."

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cCormick and Kern are distracting us with their spiel about not feeling any "pressure" from higher up. And maybe they're doing it on purpose; after all, they both still work there and have a vested interest in making themselves and their employers look good.
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But "pressure" isn't the point. Zell wanted McCormick fired, not pressured. The order would have come down--as one of the Tribune's long series of counterproductive and completely unnecessary downsizings--to cut expenses among the editorial writers, to keep on or develop younger talent, and McCormick would have been out of there like a shot. He'd now be standing in line behind other creditors, trying to get his severance. And no one would have been any the wiser, no one would've felt any "pressure" whatsoever, least of all Kern, who's just the kind of person to unquestioningly throw staff overboard at the behest of the Zell guys. That's what Kern is there for; he's certainly not editor of the Tribune for any legitimate journalistic reason.
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Here's the real question worth pondering: Kern and editorial page editor Bruce Dold say they were surprised about all this. If they were, why was that? Apparently, Zell, who was "sensitive" to Blagojevich's concerns, kept one of the biggest stories in Tribune history under his hat, which in turn strongly suggests that he was at least contemplating going along with the governor's demand.
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After all, journalism is just a business, as Zell repeatedly says, in between his many statements of boiling contempt for and disgust with journalists and everything they do. And, for a real-estate billionaire from Chicago, nothing could be more natural than doing business in the latest in a long series of filthy Illinois governors. So why cut this Zell bastard any slack? It's reasonable to believe the worst.
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Beyond this is the ugly possibility that a warning somehow filtered up from the Trib newsroom to Zell, deflecting him from hacking away at the editorial writers ahead of Blagojevich's imminent arrest and Fitzgerald's news conference, which would have been enormously embarrassing at that point. Thus the editorial writers were spared and (puzzlingly at the time) 11 other poor souls from the newsroom got their pink slips.
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The Tribune broke the Blagojevich story, but unless they now cover this very obvious and highly disturbing angle, they'll come out smelling pretty bad.
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5:45 AM  
Anonymous Ace in the hole said...

Wait a second ... if Blago never exercised any influence on the Chicago Tribune, can he be charged with doing so?

There is more going on here then meets the eye.

By denying any impact or influence, you are inadvertently letting Blago off the hook.

Everyone in the chain of command has been named as never having any knowledge of the pressure.

Look, it isn't about the facts, it's about what you can prove.

By going on the record with these statements, Blago looks like he didn't actually do anything except run his mouth off.

Ugh. Way to go!

9:50 AM  

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