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Hey! I know a hero of the Blagojevich scandal!

I’ve worked for the journalist who pissed off a scandal-laden governor for all the right reasons.
By David Brauer

One of the nice things about getting a little long in the journalistic tooth is that you accumulate friendships with some fantastic professionals. In the mid-’90s, I happened to fall into the orbit of John P. McCormick, who was then the Chicago bureau chief for Newsweek magazine.

John P. McCormick
John P. McCormick

John recruited me to be the magazine’s Minnesota correspondent, where I fed Chicago a bunch of local items and even shared a byline on the magazine’s 1998 “Ventura Wins!” story. Good times, made better because McCormick was a jovial, generous boss who made time to teach me “Newsweek style.” (Begin every paragraph with a statement.)

Now I find out he’s a pit bull! McCormick is the only named journalist in today’s operatically spun criminal complaint of Illinois Gov. Blagojevich.

Since we last worked together, John has become the Chicago Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor. As it turns out, Blago believed the paper’s editorial board was driving discussion of his impeachment. The Trib needed the state’s help to avoid capital gains taxes if it sold Wrigley Field. (The paper filed for bankruptcy just yesterday.)

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So the guv initiated one of his apparently characteristic shakedowns.

Blagojevich allegedly ordered his aide John Harris to tell Trib owner Sam Zell, “Our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ’em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support,” according to the complaint.

Harris subsequently told his boss that Zell “got the message and is very sensitive to the issue” and that there were “certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he’s going after that section.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “In a further conversation on Nov. 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, ‘as somebody who was the most biased and unfair.'”

Unfair is not the John McCormick I know; I’ve sat through him quizzing my reporting.

If you read two Trib editorials on the matter, you’ll see unfairness is anything but. One in June explicitly counsels against impeachment, but wishes for a recall provision. By late September, Trib editorialists acknowledge new facts and their position switch, urging the Illinois Senate to begin an impeachment investigation, stopping short of saying Blagojevich should be convicted.

The governor’s aide made his call to Sam Zell’s advisor five week later.

Three thoughts on this:

1. Who says newspaper editorials don’t matter anymore?

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2. I sure as hell hope Sam Zell was stringing Team Blagojevich along. [Update: McCormick says he was never pressured.]

3. Buyouts and layoffs haunt the newspaper world, but I believe John P. McCormick has today become the most secure journalist in America.