Can Tribune exile Randy Michaels think we’ll ever forget about him?
Napoleon had his Waterloo. Custer had his Little Big Horn. And Randy Michaels had Chicago.
Four months after Tribune Co. gave up on Michaels, it’s nice to see that the disgraced former CEO and overgrown frat boy appears to have given up on Chicago. But just because he's skipping town doesn’t mean he’ll be forgotten here any time soon.
Michaels recently listed his 31st floor penthouse condo near Tribune Tower in Streeterville for $989,000. We know that because the Tribune reported it — pointing out such features as “river and lake views, floor-to-ceiling windows, two marble baths, an office nook, 10-foot ceilings, wood floors, solar shades, custom closet buildouts, two balconies and KitchenAid stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.” Michaels had bought it for $970,000 in 2008.
Even more remarkable was Elite Street writer Bob Goldsborough’s description of Michaels in the piece, referring to him by his real name, Benjamin Homel, and noting that he’d resigned under pressure last October “after weeks of escalating allegations that he and some associates that he had recruited had tarnished the company with boorish, sexist behavior.” Can you imagine the Tribune identifying any other past or present Tribune Co. executive that way?
For Michaels, his ignominious end — hastened by a front-page story in the New York Times highlighting many of his outrageous antics (including an after-hours poker party in the Tribune Tower sanctum of the late Colonel Robert McCormick) — actually marked the second debacle he brought on himself in Chicago.
Years earlier — in 1991, to be exact — Michaels was the hotshot consultant who conceived the idea of renaming Top 40 WYTZ-FM “Hell,” and targeting such popular personalities as Oprah Winfrey, Jonathon Brandmeier, Steve Dahl and Terri Hemmert. The move not only brought about the demise of the station Michaels had been hired to save, but it remains to this day one of the most ill-conceived and tacky radio stunts in local broadcast history.
But that was nothing compared with the catastrophe he unleashed two decades later at Tribune Co., most notably at the company’s news/talk flagship, WGN-AM (720). Once among the most respected and successful radio brands in America, it still hasn’t recovered from the horrendous programming and personnel decisions foisted by Michaels and his minions.
Since his ouster and the subsequent housecleaning of most of the radio cronies he’d installed in top jobs, Michaels has been keeping a low profile. “I may go buy some media, I may go run some media, I don’t know,” he told the Wall Street Journal in his only interview last November. At Tribune Co. he was replaced by a four-person executive council that’s still struggling to help the company emerge from bankruptcy.
Even as he looks to pack up and leave town, Michaels may be getting some inside help to repair his image. Brent Payne, director of search engine optimization and social media for Tribune Co., turned up on an obscure website recently offering a bounty of seven cents per hit to those who forwarded their search results for “Randy Michaels Twitter” on Google.
I’m not quite sure how it works, but others familiar with the practice say it’s the first step in what’s known as “reputation scrubbing,” typically designed to bury unfavorable material about a subject. I tried to ask Payne about it, but he did not respond to requests for clarification.
Earlier, Michaels was caught having deleted files from his laptop, which had been wiped clean of emails and other work-related information. Tribune Co. management asked a federal bankruptcy court to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deletion of data.