Tribune chief executive may be on his way out

Tribune Co.'s board is preparing for the possible departure of embattled Chief Executive Randy Michaels, sources close to the situation said, and will explore his fate at a board meeting Tuesday.

The sources said it was probable the board would conclude that Michaels had been too tarnished by the recent resignation of Lee Abrams, one of his top lieutenants, as well as a critical front-page New York Times story, to continue his tenure.

A source said the board had discussed succession issues and a separation agreement for Michaels.

A spokesman for Chicago-based Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, KTLA-TV Channel 5 and other media assets, declined to comment. Attempts to reach Michaels were unsuccessful.

The move would come just days after the resignation of Abrams, Michaels’ controversial chief innovation officer, who caused an uproar at the company when he sent all employees an e-mail containing a link to a video deemed highly inappropriate because of its sexual content.


That followed the New York Times report that characterized Michaels and his management team as fostering a sexist “frat house” atmosphere at the bankrupt media conglomerate that was demeaning to women.

Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 protection in December 2008, is expected to be taken over by a group of senior creditors and banks led by JPMorgan Chase.

Michaels, with whom Tribune Chairman Sam Zell had worked in building up a string of radio stations later swallowed by Clear Channel Communications, became chief executive in December 2009.

Like Zell, Michaels relished being seen as a maverick. Though Tribune creditors have complimented him for improving the company’s cash flow amid the industry storm, he also became a lightning rod for controversy.

The New York Times story, critical of the culture and performance of Tribune, shook the company early this month. The distraction was compounded on Oct. 11 when Abrams, the chief innovation officer, sent an e-mail to all Tribune employees that included a link to video of a newscast parody that had a scantily clad woman pouring liquor on her bare breasts.

Abrams apologized, then resigned Friday. But board members, sources say, began to worry about possible liability issues related to their fiduciary duties and started exploring Michaels’ fitness to run the company.