The Chicago Tribune has been running an ad on local television this week. It includes edited clips from US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference announcing the arrest of Governor Blagojevich:
FITZGERALD: I have to take my hat off to the Tribune...We ought to credit the Chicago Tribune...I appreciate that and respect what they did.
V/O: Looking out for you. Now more than ever. Subscribe Today.
Of course, if you saw the press conference you would know that what the Tribune did to deserve such praise from Fitzgerald was withhold the story that the feds were bugging the governor's home, a decision, I understand, that met with vigorous debate within the newsroom. Now this might have been the right the thing to do, and as an Illinoisan I'm glad the investigation wasn't compromised. We all have a big crush on Patrick Fitzgerald right now so I can see why someone in the Trib marketing department got all gooey when he started blowing the Trib kisses in the middle of his statement. But I know a lot of terrific reporters and editors at that paper and I doubt there's anyone on the editorial floors at 435 North Michigan who doesn't think it's bizarre to suggest that people should subscribe to the Tribune because the paper DIDN'T report what would have been the biggest story of the year. That decision might have made the paper a good citizen--and I'm not criticizing them for it--but it's no reason to get all boastful. Bad newspapers don't break stories all the time.
Last week in the Huffington Post, Daniel Sinker wrote a column really giving it to the Trib for not reporting the fact that Blagojevich had been trying to blackmail Tribune executives into firing members of their editorial staff before that information came out in Fitzgerald's complaint. Sinker's piece, however, makes a number of factual errors and arrives at a series of assumptions none of us can make. We know that Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris talked to each other about speaking to Tribune executives, as well as a "financial advisor to the Tribune," to suggest that state financial assistance for Wrigley Field could be held up if the Trib didn't jettison some of its editorial board. But we actually don't know who Harris spoke to and everything he alleges was said to Tribune executives (and what they said in return) is all third-hand on the tapes. Harris even told Blagojevich that he "won't be so direct" with the suggestion. It might have been indirect to the point where Trib officials thought it was just another example of the governor whining about their coverage (in fact Blagojevich was calling publicly for the firing of editorial board members right up until the day before he was arrested). Harris might personally have thought the suggestion was insane and might have been lying to his boss about conversations he had just to keep Blagojevich happy.
It's seems clear that Tribune executives did not put actual pressure on the editorial staff as a result of suggestions from the governor's office. "If the governor did what was alleged, he ran into a brick wall," said one Trib editor. But if Trib execs did get an explicit message from Blagojevich that he wanted reporters fired in exchange for state money, it seems odd they wouldn't have passed this information along so their own paper could report--I'll say it again--what would have been the biggest story of the year. And if they didn't get that message, it seems that the nature of the forthcoming indictment against Blagojevich could be radically altered. I'm not sure you can be convicted of extorting somebody who doesn't know they're being extorted. I suppose you still have some sort of conspiracy to commit extortion, but that might be harder to prove. Any prosecutor would rather have goods on the real thing.
It appears as though the governor is going to fight this complaint. He's hired a defense attorney who is well-known for going to trial rather than pleading out. It would seem the only way he could challenge what's on those tapes would be to argue what's on those tapes isn't what it seems. And one of our hometown newspapers is going to be at the center of that argument.
Unfortunately, newspapers are rarely great at reporting on themselves.
Also, confidential to 23-Year-Old Chicago Woman: The traditional gift for the sixth wedding anniversary is either candy or iron.
We're really hoping you get the candy.