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Tribune’s Lee Abrams suspended for email

Exec's companywide message had link to suggestive video

On the heels of a New York Times story describing fratboy antics among its senior management, the Tribune Co. has suspended its chief innovation officer, Lee Abrams, after he widely distributed an email linking to a sexually suggestive video that stirred the ire of employees.

In a message to staff Wednesday, Tribune CEO Randy Michaels said Abrams would remain on suspension indefinitely without pay while the incident is reviewed, and that management was “in the process of determining further disciplinary action.”

Last week, the company, which is trying to work out an arrangement to emerge from bankruptcy protection, was the subject of a lengthy, embarrassing piece in the New York Times that chronicled off-color remarks and antics among senior management of the company, including incidents involving Michaels. In a preemptive memo to the staff just as the piece was hitting the Web, Michaels said the story was full of “distortions and rumors more than two years old” and said that an outside firm had found that the “most substantial” of the allegations were “without substance.”

When Abrams arrived at Tribune in 2008, he drew notice for stream-of-consciousness emails that took aim at the company’s culture and were designed to trigger ideas among the newsroom and broadcast staffs, trying to apply what he learned in the often in-your-face world of the radio business to journalism. But an email he sent out earlier this week had links to satirical videos, including one labeled “sluts,” in which a gyrating woman appears to pour liquor on her bare breasts. News of the email was first reported by Chicago Breaking Business.

Abrams apologized for the email Tuesday and said it was shown as an example “of what not to do” but was part of the process of coming up with ideas for a morning TV program.

Michaels said in his memo to staff, “Lee recognizes that this video was in extremely bad taste and that it offended employees — he also has apologized publicly. He reiterated those feelings again to me privately today. But this is the kind of serious mistake that can’t be tolerated; we intend to address it promptly and forcefully.”

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