April 18, 2008
Should the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority buy Wrigley Field from Tribune Co., the owner of this newspaper?
Like most other Illinoisans with a pulse, we have thoughts on that issue. As an editorial board, we’ve been seeking a way to delve into the mix of components at play: private ownership of a sports franchise, public ownership of a stadium, the complex pluses and minuses for Illinois taxpayers, the desires of Chicago Cubs fans to keep their team in perpetuity at 1060 W. Addison St.
We earn our livings by trying to help Tribune readers navigate torrents of information and discordant opinions so they can reach good decisions. But this time our ambition to synthesize and speak out collides with a second force: our economic self-interest. The future of our parent company-conceivably, the future of our jobs-rests to some unknowable extent on the successful sale of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, and the resulting reduction of corporate debt.
We want what’s best for the people of Chicago and of Illinois. We want what’s best for the Cubs and their fans everywhere. We also want what’s best for Tribune Co. That self-interest diminishes whatever credibility we would bring to this important discussion.
So we must recuse ourselves.
We don’t often say that. Most of the time, the fact that we live and work here doesn’t create insurmountable obstacles to offering opinions about what public policy seems most sound for the most citizens. Examples: Some of our editorials discuss the taxes we pay-and the highways those tax dollars build. We write about education-and we send our children to schools.
When Tribune Co. has a strong interest in an issue, then we-like the Cubs-try to work in the sunshine. We tell readers about that self-interest. Then, customarily, we reason through the facts of the case and present our opinion. What’s crucial is that readers have the information they need to decide if we’re striving to be honest brokers, or if they want to reach for a grain of salt.
This page supported installing lights for night games at Wrigley Field, and also supports the easing of federal restraints on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations. In both cases, we think we had good reasons-independent of Tribune Co.’s agenda-for taking those stands. But we can be absolutely certain readers have known of Tribune Co.’s interests. We’ve told them.
We’ve also written about other stadium deals-not always reaching the same conclusion. We strongly supported the taxpayer involvement that enabled construction of what’s now U.S. Cellular Field. And we strongly opposed taxpayer involvement in the insertion of a new seating bowl into Soldier Field.
Those two projects were manifestly different from each other-and from the deal now being contemplated for the ballpark on Chicago’s North Side. Neither the Cell nor Soldier Field was a matter of magnitude to Tribune Co. and its thousands of employees.
By contrast, the potential public purchase of Wrigley Field is.
In this case, we haven’t found a way to work around the financial implications for ourselves of such a deal, or to divorce ourselves from them. Hence, our recusal.
The people who nurtured this newspaper for its first 160 years sustained its success in large part by building its credibility. They knew that smart people subscribe to a newspaper because they believe it. Much as smart advertisers want to speak through media outlets that smart people have decided to trust.
If you come here often, you know we don’t shy from hot topics. Sidestepping this one doesn’t feel natural. It feels, though, like the decision that will let us ask for your trust on a thousand future issues.