The [Tuesday] Papers
The sale of the 150-odd year Tribune Company to Sam Zell is seismic, given the company's historic significance and influence in the city, as well as its national footprint with media properties within reach of something like 80 percent of all Americans. The ramifications are, as they say, vast for democracy and civic life here and elsewhere. Sam Zell just became a very important man in the nation's mediascape.
But first a few words about the Cubs.
* Much of the early speculation on a buyer is focused on Mark Cuban, Jerry Colangelo, Don Levin, or even Michael Jordan. But what about the prospective ownership group led by Ha-Lo Companies founder Lou Weisbach and Steve Stone that tried to move the Montreal Expos to Las Vegas?
The group even sought a patent on a how they would finance building a stadium.
* And what of the Wrigley Company? Maybe the gumsters - or members of the family who sold the Cubs to Tribune in 1981 - would like to take another shot, especially now that the branding of Wrigley Field has been so successful.
* Or how about minority ownership, still sorely lacking in professional sports? No, I don't mean Oprah. I mean Yusef Jackson, who was also once involved in the bidding for the Washington Nationals with . . . Ron Burkle, one of the L.A. billionaires who just lost TribCo to Zell.
* And what of Wrigley Field? The Tribune's David Greising reports this morning that the company is being awfully cagey about the fate of the ballpark. It turns out Wrigley may not be for sale along with the team. "Company officials Monday declined to comment on whether the ballpark . . . is on the market." Greising reports.
* Weep not (as I know few will) for the end of Tribune Company's stewardship of the Cubs. "Tribune Co. is the longest tenured, least successful ownership group among Major League Baseball's current group of 30," the Tribune's sports editor, Dan McGrath, writes.
* Few folks are happier today than the Tribune's sports staff. I've said it many times over the years, but I've never believed the paper showed a bias toward the Cubs - even though Tribune Company management put the staff in an untenable situation that could never overcome that appearance among a chunk of the population.
Local media critic Richard M. Daley among them.
"In 2005, as the White Sox bore down on their World Series title, Daley scoffed at a Tribune story about the Black Sox scandal of 1919," Greising writes. 'Why do they have to bring that up? Here they are coming into a tough game tonight. They won't do it against the Cubs, I'll tell you that.'"
As usual, the brutish and bullying mayor was ridiculously wrong.
Now, aside from on-field performance, would the Tribune have more aggressively covered the team's ownership and financial picture if that didn't involve poking around in the business of their bosses? Perhaps. But then what's the Sun-Times's excuse?
* The Sun-Times, by the way, has been absolutely smoked on the TribCo story, relying today on Bloomberg News and in general being totally out of their depth.
Just get to town?
"Minority residents, in particular, will tell you they've seen a lot worse than the beating thug cop Anthony Abbate put on the woman bartender, but without the videotape to prove it."
You don't need "minority residents" to tell "you" (an assumption that your readers are also white?) that. I mean, police beatdowns have kind of been in the papers for years. Chicago cops are kind of known for it.
* "[Resigning police chief Phil Cline] said the only 'blue line' or 'blue wall' with which he is familiar is 'the line the police officers walk every day to protect the citizens' from the criminals," Brown writes.
Really? In 2004, retired police officer Doris Byrd was asked about the reticence of officers to step forward and say what they knew about Burge and his pals. "Well, first of all, we would have been frozen out of the police system," she said. "We would have been ostracized. We definitely wouldn't have made rank. We probably would have been stuck in some do-nothing assignment."
* My interpretation is that when Cline said on Friday that he might stay for the duration of Daley's new four-year term, he was avoiding lame duck status, and he really did intend to leave this year. My interpretation is also that while the timeline for Cline's retirement hasn't changed, the mayor decided the announcement would be made now for political reasons.
So the answer to the question of whether he resigned or retired is that he was forced to recast his retirement as a resignation.
But isn't it interesting too that the mayor admits he asked Cline last year to stay on until after the mayoral election? Of course the mayor didn't want to address questions about the police department in an election year that a change in command would have raised.
* When the mayor says "I did not ask for his resignation," he's telling the truth. What he's leaving out is "because he submitted it before I had to."
* When the mayor says "you can't wait that long [to take action] because if there's a videotape it's gonna get out," does he mean that you can wait longer if there isn't a videotape?
* At the end of his press conference, the mayor told media, who had been asking about the search process for a new chief, "I encourage everyone here to apply, thank you." And he flashed a mean grin. Boy, he's real torn up about this. What a prick.
* I sensed the mayor hinted that a woman might be the next police chief. Sure enough, the early pool of candidates reportedly includes Dept. Supt. Deb Kirby, Asst. Deputy Supt. Anne Egan, and Chief of Detectives Maria Maher.
* Regarding the continuing investigation of special operations officers, which reportedly will end with explosive, wide-ranging indictments, Cline has repeatedly said (including on Chicago Tonight last week) that internal affairs rooted out the wrongdoing. But the Tribune reports (at the very bottom of this story) that "critics have pointed out that the internal affairs division had investigated the officers for years without taking any action. Eventually prosecutors became involved when the officers repeatedly missed court on drug cases that turned out to be bogus arrests."
* When the Sun-Times says that "Cline Was Quintessential Chicago Cop," they mean he's a fat white man with a mustache. (about half-way down on the linked page)
* The Los Angeles Times not as thrilled with a vulture investor.
* Eli Broad is a philanthropist, and he and Ron Burkle - runners-up to Zell in Trib bidding - expressed a civic interest in the company. People in Chicago may be happy a Chicago guy won out, but the folks in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Hartford, and other cities with Tribune properties aren't any better off - and in fact, even Chicaogans would likely have been better off with Broad and Burkle in charge. After all, with lower profit expectations and sense of the public interest, they would have been more likely to invest in journalism and less likely to slash-and-burn. To Zell, the Tribune is just another mobile home park.
* Newsroom folks who think an ESOP means they'll have a role running the company are idiots. It's your retirement money Zell is gambling with.
* Meanwhile, Crain's reports that "For top Tribune executives, taking the company private would bring an immediate payout.
"At $33 a share, the cash value of CEO Dennis FitzSimons' holdings would be $22.2 million, according to his most recent disclosure on insider holdings. Last fall, Tribune's board amended certain retirement, pension and bonus deferral plans to make them immediately payable to top executives when company ownership changes."
* The naivete is stunning. "Michael Tackett, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, said anyone who buys the chain likely appreciates its positive work. 'You can assume that the owners see real value here and you only maximize the value with quality,' he added."
Well yes, you could certainly assume that, even though you'd be hard-pressed to find an example in that part of the world known as Reality.
* Tribune columnist Mary Schmich says in this account that "If this restructuring restores any sense of our newspaper being really at the heart of what we do, great."
Did you and Tackett and Brown all just arrive on Earth on the same flight?
The Beachwood Tip Line: Songs sung blue.
Posted on April 3, 2007
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