Allegations gov threatened Tribune Company

December 9, 2008 3:49:40 PM PST
The allegations against Governor Rod Blagojevich include a matter involving the parent company of The Chicago Tribune. Prosecutors say the governor threatened to withhold state funding from The Tribune Company in the sale of Wrigley Field unless some members of the editorial board were fired. Chicago Tribune political reporters got wind last week that federal prosecutors were closing in on the governor. But reporters and editorial board members had no idea The Tribune Company was included in the investigation until Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday morning. The Tribune's editorial board says it never received any direction from the paper's owner to remove members of the editorial board.

It has never been a secret to The Chicago Tribune editorial board that Governor Rod Blagojevich was not a fan of the paper. Eighteen months ago, the governor stopped appearing before the board after a series of critical editorials, including one that urged a recall campaign.

"And he vowed at that time he was never going to come back and he has not. We have invited him back," said Bruce Dold, Chicago Tribune editorial page editor.

But editorial page editor Bruce Dold never had any idea that the governor was so mad that he would allegedly try shake down the Tribune Company to get rid of editorial board members.

"The allegation he had tried somehow to influence the tribune to remove the editorial board is pretty astonishing," Dold said.

Federal prosecutors say Blagojevich threatened to withhold state money to the Tribune Company with the sale of Wrigley Field if the company did not fire certain editorial board members. John McCormick, who has written several critical editorials about the governor, was specifically mentioned.

According to the federal complaint, a November 11 call was intercepted where Blagojevich's chief of staff John Harris told the governor that the Tribune financial advisor talked to the Tribune owner and the Tribune owner "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue."

"We never had a whiff of this. I never had any effort to influence what we write from Sam Zell or anybody else in Tribune corporate," said Dold.

Tribune owner Sam Zell has yet to comment. Meantime, Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson says a comment the governor made while doing a TV taping in the Tribune building this week has taken on a mew meaning.

"Just the other day the governor was here in this building to do a TV taping and remarked that in light of the Tribune's bankruptcy filings, one of the things that the ownership could do would be to reorganize the editorial board," said Pearson.

The Tribune Company released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the actions of the company, its executives and advisors working on the sale of Wrigley Field have been appropriate at all times. It went on to say no one working for the company or on its behalf has ever attempted to influence the staffing decisions at the Chicago Tribune.


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