Dec 9, 2008

Bad news Blagojevich*, **

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested this morning on corruption charges for allegedly trying sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.

In a bizarre twist, the case touches on Tribune Co., which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Apparently Blagojevich put the screws to Tribune's editorial board. From the NYT:
The authorities also say Mr. Blagojevich threatened to withhold state assistance from the Tribune Company, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday. According to the authorities, Mr. Blagojevich wanted members of the Tribune’s editorial board, who had criticized him, to be fired before he extended any state assistance.
Bad decision-making on a statewide scale.

*UPDATE: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, of Plame-gate fame, laid out the case in a morning press conference. Looks like the shakedown of Tribune Co. had to do with Wrigley Field, which the company desperately wanted to sell to pay down debt. From the Tribune's Chicago Breaking News:
Blagojevich ... also allegedly conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.
Now, newspapers may be on hard times, but it seems the height of arrogance/stupidity to try to extort a company that employs a stable full of reporters.

The story goes on to say the Chicago Tribune agreed to delay publishing some stories at Fitzgerald's request:
"On occasion, prosecutors asked us to delay publication of stories, asserting that disclosure would jeopardize the criminal investigation." [Tribune Editor Gerould W.] Kern said. "In isolated instances, we granted the requests, but other requests were refused."
**UPDATE II: Looks like I spoke too soon about Blagojevich's arrogance in thinking he could muscle a newspaper without retribution. Gawker (via TJ Sullivan on Native Intelligence) flags this interesting tidbit from the affadavit:

In a November 11 intercepted call, [Blagojevich chief of staff John] Harris allegedly told Blagojevich that Tribune Financial Advisor talked to Tribune Owner and Tribune Owner "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue." Harris told Blagojevich that according to Tribune Financial Advisor, there would be "certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he's going after that section." Blagojevich allegedly responded. "Oh. That's fantastic." After further discussion, Blagojevich said, "Wow. Okay, keep our fingers crossed. You're the man. Good job, John."

In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune's deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, "as somebody who was the most biased and unfair." After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field.

I assume "Tribune Owner" = Sam Zell. But before we condemn anyone, we have to consider the possibility that the Tribune folks were either cooperating with investigators or their receptiveness to Blagojevich's entreaties overstated by Harris. It doesn't look good though.

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