Hey! I know a hero of the Blagojevich scandal!

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.)

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?

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.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/09/2008 - 05:23 pm.

    1) What makes McCormick a hero? Being the target of a politician’s wrath?

    2) “Blagojevich allegedly told 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 indictment.”

    That is not what the Sun-Times story you linked said. It said the conversation was with one of his own Chief of Staff:

    ‘Blagojevich allegedly told Harris that he should say to Tribune Financial Advisor, the Cubs chairman and the Tribune owner, “our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ’em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support.”‘

    “The governor made his call to Sam Zell five week later.”

    Except that he didn’t make a call at all did he? Maybe that is nit-picking. After all, your version makes a better story.

    “2. I sure as hell hope Sam Zell was stringing Team Blagojevich along.”

    Fat chance. Zell was telling the governor’s staff what he thought he had to tell them to get the Governor on his side.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/09/2008 - 05:44 pm.

    Ross –

    While my reference was just a wee bit arch, any journalist who gives appropriate, prescient hell is a hero!

    (I corrected a reference in the sentences you cite to make it clean it was the guv talking to his aide, and the aide talking to Zell’s advisor.)

    I’m also not sure we disagree on the final point. Saying what you have to say can be the same thing as stringing along. We just don’t know at this point, though McCormick says he was never pressured.

  3. Submitted by B Maginnis on 12/10/2008 - 11:46 am.

    Your boy Barry Hussein O. is going to get dirty.

    Very dirty.

    Are you up to it?

  4. Submitted by Jeff Urbanek on 12/13/2008 - 08:54 am.

    The point is that McCormick was courageous enough to say things that got people in very high places rattled. How many people can say they risk their career just by doing their job? And this is not a case of McCormick having incompetent bosses or being a politician or a teacher (they can never win). The reality is today that journalists are under seige, that the political spin cycle has come down on anyone who dares to report against their position.

    This article raises frightening questions. If The Trib was pressured how many other cases are like this. We have already seen the Strib editorial board pushed dramatically right, MPR has also been politicized. If you are not printing what the ruling junta wants, then you must be biased.

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