Ripped from the wires ... In an editorial today, the Chicago Tribune offers its perspective -- as an unwitting player in the drama -- on the fall of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich stood outside the Tribune Tower on Monday and offered what he called "a polite recommendation'' for how the Chicago Tribune could weather its financial woes: Fire the editorial board. People have stopped buying and reading the paper, he said, because they're turned off by the editorial page, which has been harshly critical of the governor.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alleged that Blagojevich had made the suggestion before, and not politely. Instructing his chief of staff about negotiations with Tribune officials who hoped to sell Wrigley Field with financial assistance from the state, Blagojevich spelled out his terms: "Fire all those (expletive) people, get 'em the (expletive) out and get us some editorial support.''
That message was relayed to Tribune officials in early November, according to an affidavit attached to the federal indictment against Blagojevich and chief of staff John Harris. But Tuesday's news release was the first we'd heard of it. The editorial board has continued its criticism of the governor, whose ability to govern was irreparably compromised long before he was charged with a crime. We plan to keep it up. There has never been so much as a whisper, from Tribune CEO Sam Zell or anyone else, that we should lay off the governor, and for this we are deeply grateful. The citizens of Illinois should be, too.
The Tribune's guiding principles list four roles for the editorial page: to serve as a check on the power of government, to set an agenda for the Chicago region and the nation, to make persuasive arguments for the enactment of that agenda, and to inform and guide its readers so they can make better decisions as citizens.
So we have criticized Blagojevich for his reckless stewardship of state finances, his refusal to work with the legislature, his unabashed trafficking in political favors. We've questioned why the governor dragged his feet on signing an ethics bill and why his hand-picked Tollway Authority Board was in such a hurry to approve a vaguely conceived $1.8 billion plan to add high occupancy lanes; Tuesday's documents hint at some compelling answers. Last year, we started a discussion that led to a failed attempt at adding a recall provision to the state constitution, with Blagojevich as Exhibit A. We stopped short of urging impeachment, aware that a criminal investigation was under way, but the court documents released Tuesday make it clear the governor wanted to short-circuit such a campaign.
Prosecutors say he tried to accomplish that by abusing his authority over a state finance board to wield an ultimatum over the newspaper, a ham-handed gambit that was doomed to fail.
Selling the Cubs is a key step in the Tribune Co.'s financial strategy. But the integrity of the editorial page is not for sale.