Sacrificing Lee Abrams | Bleader

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sacrificing Lee Abrams

Posted By on 10.13.10 at 04:28 PM

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Is this why Lee Abrams was kept around in the Tower in the first place—so that when the time came, there'd be someone to throw to the Huns?

Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels is the exec who took a beating in David Carr's anonymously sourced expose in the New York Times last week. Michaels was the guy who offered a waitress $100 to show her breasts, according to someone "who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer." Michaels set the tone of "sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective." Abrams was a walk-on in Carr's drama, given a nod as the chief innovation officer who "peppered the staff with stream-of-consciousness memos, some of which went on for 5,000 typo-ridden, idiosyncratic words that left some amused and many bewildered."

Idiosyncrasy has never been a stranger in the hallowed halls of journalism. Abrams was Sam Zell's resident goofball. I liked posting his memos on the Reader's blog. Here, for instance. And here. And here.

And here.

For these, Abrams was paid the big bucks. And if you ask me, he was strutting his stuff when in the wake of Carr's expose of Tribune Tower as a kind of "frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk," he fired off a staff memo linking to an Onion video called "Sluts."

Commenting on the memo on his own blog, Carr says it "began innocently enough" but then "seemed to veer off." Well, of course it did. When did Abrams ever write a memo that didn't? This one veered into a list of 14 videos "that Ray Brune, the Executive Producer of our new morning concept, put together for our first Bootcamps with the new staff. Many have been circulated, but I am always surprised how many have not yet seem these. Always pretty inspirational or at least interesting stuff."

"Sluts" was one of them.

Ray Brune is with Tribune Broadcasting, incidentally. And as we contemplate morning concepts, boot camps, and video homework assignments, the rest of us can be grateful that we're not.

Though Abrams said the videos were inspirational, we can wonder if he actually watched them himself. Maybe he didn't even realize he was asking the staff to find inspiration in a T&A-laced sendup from the Onion factory at the worst possible time. Or, from Michaels's point of view, possibly the best possible time. Because Abrams gave Michaels an opening to actually sound indignant and high-minded. "This is the kind of serious mistake that can’t be tolerated; we intend to address it promptly and forcefully," said Michaels, in Wednesday's staff memo announcing that he'd suspended Abrams indefinitely without pay. "A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect. Our culture is not about being offensive or hurtful."

I'd says Michaels owes Abrams one.

There was no word on Brune's fate.

One thing is now clear. It is much easier to write about a grab-ass culture inside a massive media corporation than about endless, grinding bankruptcy litigation involving senior and junior lenders, shifting alliances, and judges in Delaware. Michael Oneal does that for the Tribune and he's pretty much by his lonesome. Add lechery to the mix — an element hitherto unknown to the media realm — and every writer in town wants a piece of the action.

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