Wednesday, November 05, 2008

SewerWatch Exclusive: Did the Chicago Tribune Pave Obama's Road to the White House?

by Ron Crawford

The Chicago Tribune seems to take the idea of "candidate endorsement" to a whole new level.

For example, in 2004, when then-Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, was locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate with his republican opponent, Jack Ryan, the Chicago Tribune, along with a local television station, filed a lawsuit to force the release of Ryan's "sealed" documents associated with his 1999 divorce from actress, Jeri Ryan (yes, guys, that Jeri Ryan [hubba-hubba]).

The Tribune prevailed in its lawsuit, and Ryan's divorce documents were ordered to be "unsealed."

The documents revealed an array of embarrassing, sexually explicit details that quickly forced Ryan to withdraw from the senate race.

He was replaced late in the campaign by Alan Keyes (yes, ladies, that Alan Keyes), whom Obama then trounced in the election by a 70%-27% margin, earning (finger quotes on the 'earning') Obama his seat on the U.S. Senate.

Here's where it gets interesting(er).

The Chicago Tribune, it turns out, is a huge, and long-time, Obama supporter.

Soon after the newspaper prevailed in its lawsuit against Ryan, the Tribune would go on to "promote" Obama for the U.S. senate throughout the rest of the 2004 campaign.

In an editorial earlier this year, where the Tribune endorsed Obama for president -- the first democrat ever endorsed for the office by the 150-year-old Trib, according to its web site -- the newspaper wrote, "The Tribune's editorial board has been a consistent supporter of Obama, backing his run for the Illinois Senate in 1996 and promoting him for U.S. senator in 2004."

In a December 6, 2006, editorial, the Tribune even "encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign."

So, to recap, and to emphasize, the Chicago Tribune actively "promoted" Obama during his 2004 U.S. senate race, after they paid a high priced law firm to dig up extremely damaging dirt on his republican opponent in 2004 -- dirt that would immediately force Obama's opponent from the race.

Then, in 2006, the Chicago Tribune "encouraged Obama to join the presidential campaign."

Even the timing of the Tribune's legal action in 2004 to have Ryan's divorce documents "unsealed" appears suspect.

News reports from the time show that, during the republican primaries for the Illinois U.S. senate seat, many of Ryan's fellow republican candidates were also demanding that his divorce records be made public, however, the Tribune apparently waited until after Ryan had locked up the republican nomination before filing their lawsuit.

According to Wikipedia:

- "On March 3, 2004, several of Ryan's GOP primary opponents urged release of the records..."

- "On March 16, 2004, Ryan won the GOP primary..."

- "On March 29, 2004, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider ruled that several of the Ryans' divorce records should be opened to the public..."

SewerWatch ( recently sent Chicago Tribune editor, Gerould W. Kern, this question:

"Did the Chicago Tribune wait until after the republican primaries before seeking court action to unseal Ryan's divorce documents?"

SewerWatch has also sent Kern this question:

"Has the Chicago Tribune sued another political candidate in an effort to get them to reveal their divorce/custody records? If so, could you please give me an example?"

As of publication time, Kern has yet to reply.

If he replies, SewerWatch will post a follow-up below this piece.


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[11/6/08 -- UPDATE! UPDATE!]

Wow. It's beginning to appear that Chicago politics is as interesting as 1998 - 2005 Los Osos politics. Who knew? (yea, yea, yea... I know, I know, "Taxpayer Watch" types: Like Los Osos, I don't live in Chicago either, so why should I care about Chicago politics?)

In my post above, I asked Chicago Trib editor, Gerould W. Kern, this question: "Has the Chicago Tribune sued another political candidate in an effort to get them to reveal their divorce/custody records? If so, could you please give me an example?"

Found out the answer myself.

It turns out the the ol' Chicago Tribune DID have a hand in forcing another political candidate to reveal their sealed divorce records -- Obama's leading opponent in the democratic primary for the 2004 Illinois U.S. Senate seat, Blair Hull.

I'm not making that up.

According to Wikipedia, "In early media polls leading up to the March 16, 2004 primary election Hull enjoyed a substantial lead and widespread name recognition resulting from a well-financed advertisement effort. He spent over $28 million of his personal wealth on the campaign. When allegations that Hull had abused his ex-wife were reported in the media, Hull's poll numbers dropped and he failed to win the nomination. Illinois State Senator Barack Obama later became the nominee."

Granted, the "Republican Majority Campaign" web site probably isn't the most objective source, but they've also posted some VERY interesting information:

- - -
February 23. 2004.... little-known Chicago state legislator Barack Obama is on his way to losing the Illinois U.S. Senate Democratic primary to local millionaire businessman Blair Hull. A WGN-TV poll shows these totals,  with the primary just 3 weeks away:
Blair Hull 24  %
Barack Obama 15
Dan Hynes 11
Maria Pappas 9
Gerry Chico 5
Hull is buying Millions of  dollars in TV ads and has come from behind to lead over state comptroller Dan Hynes and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.  Hull's primary victory is seen as a foregone conclusion.
Then.... Blair Hull's 1998 sealed divorce file was mysteriously leaked to the news media.  With Chicago newspapers leading the pack, Hull was forced to make his confidential divorce settlement public.

It included a 1998 police report stating that during an argument, Hull's wife kicked him and he responded by striking her on the shin (Chicago Sun-Times February 27, 2004.)
This dispute was made to sound like a scandalous event by the Chicago Tribune newspaper, which endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination.  Hull began to tumble swiftly in the polls... and on March 17, 2004, state senator Barack Obama won the Democratic U.S. Senate nod, as the ruined Blair Hull tumbled all the way to 3rd place with 8% of the vote!
4 months later Barack Obama was announced as the "Keynote" speaker at the Democratic convention which nominated John Kerry.  Blair Hull was left to try to reassemble his life and reputation.

Then there's this:

"The Trib had no record of making divorce records relevant in political campaigns prior or since the Hull/Ryan cases."

So, if you're keeping score at home:

The Chicago Tribune, that "promoted" (their word) Obama throughout his 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate, blew Obama's opponent in the democratic primary for the U.S. Senate out of the water by forcing his divorce documents to be unsealed, and then, just a few month's later, the newspaper blew Obama's republican opponent out of the water by hiring a high priced law firm to force his divorce records to be unsealed.


Gets better.

Political junkies may have seen someone named David Axelrod, an Obama adviser for his presidential campaign, being interviewed by the all of the major televison news outlets in the run-up to the election.

Axelrod is the former "political writer" for, you guessed it, the Chicago Tribune.

Two thoughts on all of this:

1) Obama is such a strong candidate, did the Chicago Tribune really have to go to the "unseal his opponents' divorce records" card twice, within a matter of months, to pave his political road?


2) I wonder how close (and how fast) I could get to the Governorship of California, if, say, the Los Angeles Times were to blow all of my political opponents out of the water, and then "promote" me?


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  • Ron:

    Let me know if you can read this through the tinfoil.

    SO WHAT? Are you saying that one traditionally Republican newspaper in Chicago appointed Obama as President?

    I guess if you like to fry small fish, this is some krill for you to sautee. I mean, seriously. Wouldn't you say Fox News had much much more to do with Bush than a few articles and a document dump?

    I hate to say this, but I think you've done huge damage to your credibility with me on what I formerly considered a pretty smart take on the Los Osos goings on.

    Kern's failure to reply to a blogger is as devoid of meaning as the rest of this post. Why don't you to some "independent journalism" and at least google for things like "Tribune Co. v." —or, if you're a REAL investigator, use PACER to search the federal courts for your answer, instead of using this non-response as an implication of guilt.


    By Blogger Rick, at 12:50 PM, November 05, 2008  

  • Rick wrote:

    "Are you saying that one traditionally Republican newspaper in Chicago appointed Obama as President?"

    No. I'm not saying that at all.

    All I'm saying is that the Tribune played hardball with Ryan, after he locked up the nomination, and the paper "promoted" Obama for the rest of the campaign.

    Don't get me wrong. Like the Chicago Tribune, I'm also a huge Obama fan, for the exact same reasons they give: "We said he would raise the tone of the campaign. We said his intellectual depth would sharpen the policy debate."

    That's exactly what he did. Beautiful.

    All I'm saying is I think that the Chicago Tribune applying a smooth, fresh layer of asphalt on Obama's road to the White House, makes for a very interesting story, and I'm pretty sure I have it all to myself, for now.

    I just stumbled on it last night, after bumpin' around the Internet for a couple of hours.

    But, to be sure, Obama's a Hummer, so, he, likely, didn't need the pavement anyway.

    Rick wrote:

    "Why don't you to some "independent journalism" and at least google for things like "Tribune Co. v." —or, if you're a REAL investigator, use PACER to search the federal courts for your answer"

    Good question. And, in my defense, I did also ask Kern this question:

    "Is there a pdf file available of the Chicago Tribune's 2004 legal argument to get Ryan's divorce records unsealed? If so, could you please have an assistant e-mail it to me?"

    I know, I know, I could/should go and dig it up, by I'm pretty lazy, and, being a country bumpkin and all, I'm also stuck with dial-up.

    If he doesn't get it to me, I'll break down and go dig it up.

    Rick wrote:

    "... instead of using this non-response as an implication of guilt."

    I did say he hasn't responded, "yet."

    That's not "implying guilt," that's just gently nudging him into responding. It's my guess, that he's probably a little busy right now.

    What am I supposed to do, just sit on my story and wait to see if he replies?

    Rick wrote:


    What's the deal with that, anyway?

    I don't know what that means.

    Are you saying people can actually "subscribe" to my blog, and then they're automatically notified whenever I post something?

    I did not know that.


    By Blogger Ron, at 1:39 PM, November 05, 2008  

  • Hahahahah. Unsubscribe. Pretty funny. My suspicion is that lots of newspapers do similar stuff all the time. Back to our own Tribune, I posted the observation that even after the LOCSD eletion was over, even after the Tribune had endorced the two candidates who later won, they STILL spun the headlines announcing the election results. I'm not sure they can even help themselves at this point. Knee jerk.

    By Blogger Churadogs, at 6:56 AM, November 06, 2008  

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