Tribune’s Unanswered Blagojevich Questions

Yesterday’s indictment of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich puts the governor’s original misdeeds back in the crosshairs of a media that just cant seem to get enough of the unrepentant superstar.

While most attention has focused on the governor’s actions in regards to President Obama’s old Senate seat, and new suggestions that he attempted to put the squeeze on Rahm (and Ari!) Emanuel, there’s one conspiracy to commit racketeering charge listed in the indictment that ought to draw more notice:

These efforts included, but were not limited to, attempts to … withhold state financial support that would benefit the Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, unless the Tribune Company fired editorial board members who had been critical of ROD BLAGOJEVICH

When US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald first disclosed the damning transcripts of Blagojevich’s calls, they strongly suggested that Tribune company officials, including owner Sam Zell were, at the very least, willing to give the governor’s staff the impression that they were open to such a deal.

I sketched out a set of questions for the company and the paper that if answered, would go a long way towards clearing up the matter and reassuring observers.

With so many questions striking at Sam Zell and Tribune’s ethical conduct, we need a full accounting to assure readers and other Tribune stakeholders that he remains fit to lead a respectable newsgathering organization, one that is unwilling to compromise the most basic principles of journalistic independence, even in the face of dire financial circumstances.

To the best of my knowledge, they remain unanswered.

At the time, a Tribune company spokesperson declined to comment beyond a company statement, and multiple calls I made over the course of the following week to Chicago Tribune editor Gerould Kern’s office requesting comment on aspects of the affair were not returned.

If this part of the indictment is introduced into court, it’s hard to see how Tribune officials won’t be made to testify, which, on top of the company’s other problems, can’t be a pleasant prospect.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.