UPDATE: Most updates go at the bottom of posts. I'm putting this one at the top because I don't want anyone to miss it. Down below there's mention of a "consensual sexual act" on a balcony of Tribune Tower. The rumor of this act circulated widely within the building. I just spoke with someone in the Tower, an old hand, who's a friend of the rumored fellationista. She "categorically" denied it happened, and her friend, who's no fool, believes her. OK, that's for what it's worth.
Even before David Carr published his New York Times piece Wednesday, "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture," Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels had released his rejoinder.
Carr began with an anecdote: "In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago. Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.
"After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, 'watch this,' and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded."
Carr's article went on from there, not exactly arguing but inviting the conclusion that the bankrupt company is in reckless and irresponsible hands.
Michaels, who told the Times the incident with the waitress didn't happen, emailed Tribune Company employees Tuesday putting them on their guard.
We have been informed that tomorrow’s New York Times will run a column written by David Carr (http://www.nightofthegun.com/#). Many of the questions Mr. Carr asked us for this article concerned events, distortions and rumors more than two years old. He will apparently paint the work environment at Tribune as hostile, sexist and otherwise inappropriate. Many of the rumors Mr. Carr referenced were spread by an ex-Chicago Tribune employee who is now a contributing writer to the New York Times. 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.
As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, non-linear creative environment. I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture. Our websites on the P2P platform are the most advanced in media. We have reconfigured production of the newspaper with standard ad sizes, Media on Demand Modules, and combined editing, design, and layout functions using technology. We have “Breaking News Centers” that eliminate redundancy and give newsmakers one contact point for each market’s most powerful news media. TOPS, TONS, and BRUTUS have changed the way TV is produced and aired.
It is our intention to have creative environment. A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect for each other. Our goal is an environment where people are free to speak up, free to challenge authority, and free to fail on the way to success. Our culture is NOT about being offensive or hurtful. This is supported by our Harassment Policy. It’s in the Employee Handbook which is posted on TribLink—Section 3.
The fact that so many at other media companies dwell on the way it used to be creates great opportunity for those of us willing to rethink our opportunities and recast our culture. Ignore the noise. Treat each other with respect. Have fun, and let’s go create the future.
We can't be certain who that disaffected former Tribster is whom Michaels accused of spreading rumors, but my guess is Jim Warren, who's quoted in the story. A former Tribune deputy managing editor, Warren now contributes a column to the New York Times pages produced weekly by the Chicago News Cooperative, which is composed largely of disaffected former Tribsters. (Warren was briefly the Reader's publisher.)
That's also Warren's guess. "I assume, I assume," he said when I asked. "Sure I was one of probably dozens who talked to Carr." He says the waitress story didn't come from him, though "I think I heard that story." And neither did the story Carr passed along "that a senior executive and a female employee had been discovered by a security guard engaged in a consensual sexual act on the 22nd-floor balcony." Carr said this incident was suggested in an anonymous letter to the Tribune Company board "detailing a hostile work environment and a pattern of hiring based on personal relationships."
But though he denied being the source, Warren told me, "I know all about the balcony thing. That I knew about at the time."
Warren went on, "Randy almost seems like a lawyer who’s got a tough time arguing the facts and instead opts to attack the motive. I don’t know what to say beyond that. Argue the facts with Carr rather than create some straw man with me."
Crain's Chicago Business posted a story Wednesday headlined "Tribune CEO Michaels shoots down New York Times story slamming management." The headline is inaccurate. The story remains aloft.