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Randy Michaels Gives First Interview Since Exiting TribCo

Randy Michaels, the now-former Tribune Company CEO who recently resigned after numerous controversies, granted his first interview since leaving office to the Wall Street Journal's Russell Adams this weekend. The interview appears in the Management section of today's Wall Street Journal and on the WSJ website.

David Carr and Tim Arango wrote an article in the New York Times on October 23rd, where an anonymous Tribune Board member told the writers that Michaels was asked to leave the company and tender his resignation, but Michaels refused to resign and begged to keep his job. It was owner Sam Zell that had to later pull Michaels aside and convince him to step down. In today's WSJ interview, Michaels disputes that Board member's account. Despite both New York Times and Chicago Tribune writers saying otherwise, Michaels claims that he was not asked to resign. He also says that he never begged for his job in that fateful Tuesday morning Board of Directors meeting. He instead simply "presented different options to the board, but not in the form of a plea."

Presenting it as a noble gesture, Michaels told Adams: "The fact is I decided to resign because I thought this had become an issue that was distracting, that my ability to continue to lead the company was in serious question."

Michaels contradicts himself and his claim that he was not asked to leave when he talks about how the Board had to limit its liabilities, which is why he was forced out. Michaels' own ability to repeatedly (and some may argue, constantly) attract controversy, was a huge liability. Regarding the Board's decision, he said: "They had nothing but liability."

He blamed his exit on Lee Abrams' controversial emailed memo to the company over a week before, which he described as "careless" and "indefensible." Abrams' tendered his resignation soon after. Michaels also feels that the changes he helped bring to various divisions of Tribune Company were too fast.

Once again Randy Michaels denied the stories printed in the New York Times and many other outlets which described the culture of the company thanks to the executives Michaels brought on board within TribCo as low-class, vulgar and sexist. "The environment at Tribune was inclusive, tolerant, fun, creative and sometimes irreverent, but with a purpose," he claimed.

Russell Adams also mentioned in the piece that regardless of what Randy Michaels claims, his fate was sealed long before many of these controversies became national news. The creditors aiming to take over the bankrupt company were looking to make management changes anyway. This was something Michaels was well aware of back in July when he was attempting to write into the bankruptcy reorganization plans outrageous "golden parachute" clauses for himself and his close executive friends that he brought into the company.

Michaels has long been known to play loose with facts surrounding his accomplishments and troubles, stemming back to his days when he was running the radio companies Jacor and Clear Channel. He has always been very dismissive of the controversies, accusations, lawsuits and troublesome issues that tend to follow him, as well as being dismissive of those who do not understand his "unique" and "creative" way of behaving and running companies. His remarks in today's Wall Street Journal do not come as a surprise to those who have followed his career path.

Also not a surprise is that Michaels tells Adams that he hopes to soon return to the media industry in some capacity. "I may go buy some media, I may go run some media, I don't know. My phone's been ringing. There are a lot of people who look past noise and emotions and look at results."

The word "noise" is a very common one for Randy Michaels to use. He first made it famous with Jacor, when he used the phrase "The Noise You Can't Ignore" for his radio stations. Whenever an unflattering article was published about himself or Tribune Company, which seemed to happen with great regularity this year, Randy Michaels sent out an email asking his employees to keep up their morale and "ignore the noise." After the New York Times article was written last month, he again urged employees to "ignore the noise." He used to use the word often as a positive, but in the last few months, has most often used the word "noise" as a negative. He continues to enjoy using the word to describe parts of his life.

Before he decides what to do next, Michaels said he will "probably take a couple days, go to Europe, come back and make some decisions."

For now, Michaels is a paid consultant to Tribune Company and enjoying a severance package from TribCo of reportedly over $1.5 million. (Both of which are common for exiting upper-level executives.)


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