The Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded last month to Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute in Paris for discovering the HIV virus in 1983 -- but not to the American scientist Robert Gallo.
This result might be interpreted as the ultimate vindication of reporter John Crewdson, who in
1988 1989, in a 50,000-word story in the Chicago Tribune, argued that Gallo -- credited back then with codiscovering the virus -- had merely rediscovered Montagnier's virus, which had been sent to Gallo as a professional courtesy.
Crewdson's proof was circumstantial but compelling, and though I was skeptical at first of how much the questions he was raising mattered, I came around. Crewdson's project, disparaged among the Tribune newsroom's rank and file back then because it kept him out of the paper reporting for an astonishing 20 months, is recalled today as a high-water mark from an era when the Tribune was rich, powerful, and audacious. Crewdson had won a Pulitzer a few years earlier for his reporting at the New York Times, and he's continued writing (somewhat more frequently) for the Tribune since.
But all this is prelude . . .
On Wednesday the Tribune's editor, Gerould Kern, and associate managing editor for national news Joycelyn Winnecke dropped in on the Washington bureau and laid Crewdson off. They also laid off national correspondents Bay Fang and Stephen Hedges, national security correspondent Aamer Madhani, and
, I'm told, a fifth Washington staffer who worked part-timepart-time news editor Kenneth Bredemeir.
At the same time, I hear, eight Washington staffers from the Los Angeles Times lost their jobs too.
As Chicago's own Barack Obama prepares to move into the White House, Tribune journalistic talent is in increasingly short supply in Washington. Bureau chief Michael Tackett resigned last summer, and acting chief Naftali Bendavid quit the other day and is heading to the Wall Street Journal. Last week the Tribune Company appointed Cissy Baker vice president of a consolidated Washington bureau serving the Tribune, the LA Times, and the rest of the company's newspaper, broadcasting, and new media operations. Since 2003 she'd been a vice president of Tribune Broadcasting.
When I called Baker for comment she referred me instead to Gary Weitman, the senior vice president for corporate relations in Chicago. "We never comment about staffing decisions," Weitman told me. I said it was a public matter because readers will be interested in knowing which writers they won't get to read any longer, but he wasn't moved.
On Monday the Tribune Company reported a third-quarter loss of $124 million. In the same quarter of last year it earned $84 million.