The Tribune Company board is meeting Tuesday morning, and CEO Randy Michaels is not expected to still hold that title when the board adjourns. Do not underestimate the continuing power of the press over the press. David Carr's recent Times expose, "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture," has apparently done Michaels in. An earlier victim—first of Carr and then of his own careless memo—was the company's chief innovation officer, Lee Abrams.
A missing voice in Carr's piece was that of Chicago Tribune editor Gerould Kern, who showed up neither protesting what Carr called the Tribune Tower's "frat house" atmosphere nor defending Michaels against the allegation that that's what he created. One Tribune writer I've recently talked to thought Kern's absence and silence was very odd.
But when Abrams's "Sluts" memo became notorious, Kern spoke up. He said the paper and the company were "two different organizations" and that the paper was being "wrongly tarnished" by Carr's allegations against Michaels and his executive suite pals.
I asked another Tribune writer to think out loud about Kern, who became editor under Michaels.
"Gerry Kern is not himself one of the frat boys," the writer replied. "But the frat boys had the ultimate power. It was frustrating and disappointing that Gerry and other editors wouldn't openly acknowledge how ugly the frat boy crowd was and HOW THAT AFFECTED THE REPORTERS. The frat boy behavior created an odor in the newsroom, and the sense that it was dangerous to speak out against it made the odor worse.
"I do think Gerry has sunk his heart into running the paper—as long as he didn't push against the guys above him. Did he not see their behavior? Not think it mattered? Fail to see that many reporters were pissed and insulted? I don't know. I think he's a guy who genuinely doesn't like that kind of behavior, but didn't allow himself to see it as long as it seemed to his benefit to ignore it. . . . If he pushed back at those guys—before the world was pushing back at them—they were likely to have pushed him out. Who wins then?"
Tuesday morning, Kern looks like a winner. But there is no finish line in life. "I don't think anyone will be sorry to see Randy and pals go," the Trib writer continued, "but I sure hope this isn't in the careful-what-you-wished-for category."