Stay Classy, Tribune: Sliming the Messenger

The New York Times’ David Carr produced an exhaustive piece on the mismanagement and misbehavior at the Tribune Co. under Sam Zell’s botched buyout.

Unwittingly adding fuel to the fire, the response from Tribune? To try sliming Carr in advance by sending out a memo to employees seeking to preemptively undercut the piece — linking, helpfully, to Carr’s book in which he acknowledged a past drug problem.

If nothing else, the memo illustrates just how tone-deaf the Tribune brass has been — and continues to be — in terms of understanding the culture of journalism. Sending out a memo to a bunch of newspaper reporters attacking another reporter — and accusing him of harboring (yawn) ulterior motives — is about as stupid as it gets.

Here’s the key passage in the memo:

Mr. Carr has made clear that he is digging up these old allegations because he believes that decisions about the company’s management are about to be made, and he wants to influence those decisions. Mr. Carr knows that an outside firm investigated the most substantial of these allegations, and that they were found to be without substance. Mr. Carr intends to use them anyway.

See? It’s not that Tribune’s bosses are corporate louts. David Carr has an agenda! And he might be loaded! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Mostly, Carr’s piece pulls together a lot of old stories, but it’s to illustrate what a bizarre stretch Tribune’s free-wheeling management has yielded. And he didn’t even include my favorite caught-on-tape anecdote: An imperious Zell saying “Fuck you” under his breath to a Times employee who asked a question he didn’t like at a public forum.

Whatever the outcome of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, the Zell era can’t end soon enough.

(Full disclosure: I left the Los Angeles Times, when it was under Tribune ownership, in 2003 but have long since cashed out my meager stock options in the company.)


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