Bruce Dold and John P. McCormick were driving to work together on the morning of Dec. 9 when they heard that Gov. Rod Blagojevich had been arrested by the FBI.
“I remember Bruce saying something like ‘It’s going to be a busy day today.’ And about two minutes later my cell phone rang,” McCormick recalled. “It was an acquaintance who’s an assistant U.S. attorney who said, ‘There’s some news you need to know about.’ I said ‘Yes I know about it, I heard on the radio.’ He said ‘No, the news you need to know about is you’re named in the criminal complaint.’”
Dold, the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Page Editor, and McCormick, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, spoke on Monday about their experience on the governor’s “enemies list” in front of approximately 80 members of the Northwestern community as part of the Crain lecture series, moderated by Medill professor Donna Leff. That same day, proceedings in the impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich began.
Along with charges of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, Blagojevich is under investigation for attempting to coerce the Chicago Tribune to fire Dold and McCormick. Until the phone call McCormick described, both men had been unaware that they had been targeted by Blagojevich.
But the friction between Blagojevich and the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune is nothing new, according to Dold.
“We go way back,” he said jokingly, adding that the Chicago Tribune hadn’t endorsed Blagojevich in his 1996 bid for a Congress seat because “he had nothing to show.”
Although “we did give him credit for reducing the size of the government,” during his first year as governor, Dold and his staff remained critical of many of Blagojevich’s actions in numerous editorials, even urging for his impeachment.
On Dec. 7, the Chicago Tribune reached out to Blagojevich, inviting him to talk to its editorial board to “answer all questions raised.” Neither Blagojevich nor anyone on his staff answered the Tribune’s invitation.
Two days later, then, it came as a surprise when Dold and McCormick were named in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich.
“We had no idea,” Dold said. “The newsroom did not know that we were part of the story.”
Chuckling, McCormick said, “I prefer to be loathed by people who know me, and the governor doesn’t know me. I thought he should have been mad at Bruce.”
Despite being in the spotlight, Dold and McCormick chose to continue writing about Blagojevich.
“The test here is: Is there something we know the reader doesn’t about our conflict [of interest]? Are we out in the sunshine?” McCormick said. “In this case we felt that we were uncomfortably in the sunshine.”
Both Dold and McCormick made light of the whole affair, making jokes throughout the event.
“To read in a criminal complaint that someone is ready to pay $100 million to $150 million to get rid of you…I received an e-mail a couple of days later from an editor I used to work for as a freelancer,” McCormick said. “She said she would have dumped me for two bucks.”