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Tribune Co. chief executive Randy Michaels circulated an internal memo Tuesday night to employees shooting down a New York Times report accusing him of shocking sexual behavior and creating a “frat house” workplace with “pervasive sex talk.”
The Los Angeles Times staff received a memo the day before the report ran in print Wednesday, which also said a future at the Tribune Co. — which owns the LAT and filed for bankruptcy nearly two years ago — was bleak.
In the memo, Michaels writes that the NYT report brings up events and rumors “more than two years old.”
The NYT article claims that management, installed after Tribune Co. was sold to Sam Zell in early 2008, created a work culture that consisted of “sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective,” adding that the office “came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.”
Among the allegations are that Michaels offered a waitress $100 to show him her breasts while dining with colleagues and had a loud conversation in a work area with Tribune Interactive’s Marc Chase “about the sexual suitability of various employees.”
“The conversation just wafted down on all of the people who were sitting there,” the Times source said.
She also recounted an incident at a meeting where a female executive offered to bring in her assistant to perform a sexual act on someone who appeared to be in a bad mood.
The Times also claims that Michaels has had previous complaints lodged against him, and there were three sexual harassment suits filed during and just after his tenure as head of Clear Channel.
In addition, the Times reported, Michaels and his management team rewrote the employee handbook not long after joining Tribune.
“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook read. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process. … This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”
In his memo, Michaels put a positive spin on the “nonlinear” workplace policy.
“As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, nonlinear creative environment,” he wrote. “I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture.”
Michaels also wrote that the “rumors” referenced in the story were “spread by an ex-Chicago Tribune employee who is now a contributing writer to the New York Times” and that David Carr, who wrote the story, “has made clear that he is digging up these old allegations because he believes that decisions about the company’s management are about to be made, and he wants to influence those decisions.”
The NYT piece also recounts the events that led up to the company’s bankruptcy filing in December 2008.
“They threw out what Tribune had stood for, quality journalism and a real brand integrity, and in just a year, pushed it down into mud and bankruptcy,” a newspaper analyst told the NYT.
Read Michaels’ memo on the next page.
Randy Michaels’ memo:
We have been informed that tomorrow’s New York Times will run a column written by David Carr (http://www.nightofthegun.com/#). Many of the questions Mr. Carr asked us for this article concerned events, distortions and rumors more than two years old. He will apparently paint the work environment at Tribune as hostile, sexist and otherwise inappropriate. Many of the rumors Mr. Carr referenced were spread by an ex-Chicago Tribune employee who is now a contributing writer to the New York Times. Mr. Carr has made clear that he is digging up these old allegations because he believes that decisions about the company’s management are about to be made, and he wants to influence those decisions. Mr. Carr knows that an outside firm investigated the most substantial of these allegations, and that they were found to be without substance. Mr. Carr intends to use them anyway.
As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, nonlinear creative environment. I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture. Our websites on the P2P platform are the most advanced in media. We have reconfigured production of the newspaper with standard ad sizes, Media on Demand Modules, and combined editing, design, and layout functions using technology. We have “Breaking News Centers” that eliminate redundancy and give newsmakers one contact point for each market’s most powerful news media. TOPS, TONS, and BRUTUS have changed the way TV is produced and aired.
It is our intention to have creative environment. A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect for each other. Our goal is an environment where people are free to speak up, free to challenge authority, and free to fail on the way to success. Our culture is NOT about being offensive or hurtful. This is supported by our Harassment Policy. It’s in the Employee Handbook which is posted on TribLink‹Section 3.
The fact that so many at other media companies dwell on the way it used to be creates great opportunity for those of us willing to rethink our opportunities and recast our culture. Ignore the noise. Treat each other with respect. Have fun, and let’s go create the future.
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