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Lee Abrams SUSPENDED: Tribune Suspends Executive Over Racy Email

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CHICAGO — Tribune Co. has suspended a top executive without pay over an inappropriate e-mail sent to staff.

In a memo to employees Wednesday, CEO Randy Michaels said Lee Abrams, whose title is chief innovation officer, will go on leave while the company investigates an e-mail message he sent staff Monday that contained links to raunchy video clips.

Michaels didn't say whether Abrams could lose his job, but he called the e-mail a "serious mistake that can't be tolerated."

The suspension comes as the management of Tribune, owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other media properties, is struggling to win approval for its reorganization plan nearly two years after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It also follows by a week a New York Times article that painted the company's corporate culture as resembling a "frat house."

Abrams is one of several veterans of the radio industry whom real estate mogul Sam Zell brought in to shake up Tribune Co. after he took the company private in 2007. Abrams was appointed to the chief innovation officer position in 2008 and put in charge of finding ways to innovate across the company's print, broadcast and online operations. His previous job was chief programming officer at XM Satellite Radio.

Zell arrived at Tribune with plans to transform the company into a more innovative, fast-moving media player and hoped that a more creative culture could help reverse sagging ad revenue at its newspapers and broadcast stations.

But the memo from Abrams, one of a regular stream of missives to staff, appeared to have crossed a line. It included one link to a satirical newscast from TheOnion.com, reporting a fake accident that spilled a bus full of "slut" onto a California highway. The spot featured drunken contestants for a reality TV show roaming the highway in skimpy outfits.

Abrams has apologized to Tribune's staff for sending the e-mail.