01/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blagojevich: "Fire All Those [Expletive] People"

All I can say is, Thank goodness for Rod Blagojevich: we finally have someone who understands the value of editorial writers.
Of the three buckets of alleged Blago slime recently set out in such odiferous detail by federal prosecutors, the one filled with bile toward the Chicago Tribune's editorial page is definitely the weird one.

The contracts-for-donations bucket is bigger, but it's the sort of run-of-the-mill graft that's made Illinois famous for generations. And the Senate-seat-for-sale bucket is the mind-bogglingly audacious one -- how do you treat the governor's appointment power as a high-end ATM?

But it's the secret campaign against the Tribune's editorial page that stands out, at least to those of us who offer up opinions for a living. The Blagojevich offensive may be the endorsement we've only dreamed about.

A back-of-the-hand endorsement, no question. But in trying to shut the Tribune's crew down, the governor may have made the best possible case for keeping them standing tall -- and not just that particular bunch, but their colleagues toiling on editorial pages all across the country. God knows, Blagojevich made a far better case for editorial writers than those uncommonly modest folks have ever made for themselves.
And if publishers won't listen to reason as they depopulate their newsrooms, maybe they'll listen to Rod.

[Full disclosure: Some of my best friends are editorial writers. I even married one. And I've been a longtime member of a national organization of editorial writers and various other opinionizers. I'm part of "other."]

After all, how many people are willing to come right out and suggest that getting on the good side of an editorial board could be worth $100 million, or even more? True, it's not his money, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Blagojevich wouldn't be the first public official to fret about how this or that bit of malfeasance in high places might look splashed across the pages of The Daily Fishwrap. You'd like to think that some of those officials, tempted as they might have been to sin, considered the consequences of all that negative publicity, and pulled back.

Blago apparently saw it differently: It wasn't the sinning that would have to stop -- it was the writing about the sinning.
"Our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people," he explained. "Get 'em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support."

How important was it? Important enough, claim the prosecutors, that acting through intermediaries, he offered a deal to the Tribune's publisher, Sam Zell: Clean out those malcontents on the editorial board, and the state of Illinois would assist in the Tribune Co.'s efforts to sell Wrigley Field and pay down its enormous debt. Leave those folks where they are, constantly pointing fingers and stirring up trouble, and Zell was on his own -- and on the hook for tens of millions in extra financing costs.

As of the time the handcuffs clamped tight around the governor's wrists, Zell hadn't cleaned house, but $100 million is a lot of leverage on a company with huge financial problems; who knows what nastiness could have been hidden in future layoffs? One or two additional names buried in a list of the newly departed -- who would have suspected anything was amiss? More to the point, who could have proved it?

And Blagojevich would have been rid of those meddlesome scribes -- a politician's dream come true. A certain kind of politician, anyway.
Instead, he offered the best possible demonstration of why it's so important to keep those folks at their posts, in Chicago and everywhere else that powerful people might go astray.
Call it the Bad Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at