Reporting Nancy Harty
UPDATED October 13, 2010 3:40 p.m.
CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS) – A Tribune Company executive has been suspended without pay for sending a company-wide e-mail with links to an assortment of raunchy video clips.
In a memo to employees Wednesday, CEO Randy Michaels says Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams is being suspended while the company investigates an inappropriate e-mail message he sent staff Monday.
Michaels is stopping short of saying whether Abrams could lose his job, but he is calling the e-mail a “serious mistake that can’t be tolerated.”
One of the video links was labeled “Sluts,” and featured a gyrating woman who appeared to pour liquor over her bare breasts, Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal reported.
The memo also included links to videos from The Onion, featuring an assortment of mock newscasts, Rosenthal reported. The clips included a satirical panel discussion about how educators need to accept that “students don’t give a (expletive),” and a fictional report about the crash of a bus full of reality show contestants, which is described as “spilling more than 2,000 pounds of slut,” Rosenthal reported. The video about the bus crash features women kissing and grinding against each other.
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Radio industry veteran Abrams was appointed to the position in 2008 and put in charge of print, broadcast and online innovation.
The suspension is one more headache for Tribune, owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other media properties, as it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy protection after nearly two years.
The e-mail quickly prompted complaints from Tribune Editor Gerould Kern, who called it “offensive” and “completely inappropriate.”
Kern told Rosenthal that some other employees also complained about the e-mail. He took it to the human resources department.
The Tribune reports Abrams apologized “to everyone who was offended” in another company-wide e-mail Tuesday.
Abrams said the Onion videos had been shown to staffers who came to a creative meeting for a new morning TV program, but that the clips in question were “not something that we would ever air on our TV stations – in fact quite the opposite,” Rosenthal reported.
Abrams also conceded that it was “very inappropriate” to send links to the videos all around the company, and said he asked the Tribune Company to delete the e-mail from its servers, Rosenthal reported.
The e-mail flap comes one week after the New York Times carried a front page story detailing a “frat house” culture in the Tribune executive suite.
The New York Times article by David Carr cited several current former Tribune executives and staffers, who claimed that Tribune Co. chief executive officer Randy Michaels and his executives had “shocked and offended people throughout the company” with their “use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective.”
Among the more shocking claims in the article were a quote by one executive that Michaels had offered a waitress $100 to bear her breasts at a formal business dinner, and a report previously disseminated by media columnist Robert Feder about a party for senior management with cigars and poker tables in the former office of Tribune baron Col. Robert R. McCormick.
The New York Times report also mentioned numerous criticisms of real estate mogul Sam Zell’s deal to take the Tribune Co. private, and of changes at WGN radio – particularly the hiring of former city clerk and convicted felon Jim Laski for a talk show.