Robservations: WLS Radio owner Cumulus Media forbids talk of ‘stolen elections’

WLS 890 AM

Robservations on the media beat:

Bruce St. James

Cumulus Media, parent company of conservative news/talk stations nationwide including Chicago’s WLS 890-AM, has ordered its talk show hosts to refrain from spreading lies about the presidential election. In an internal memo first reported by Jerry Del Colliano’s Inside Music Media, Cumulus Media content chief Brian Philips threatened to fire any host who questions the legitimacy of the 2020 vote. “Cumulus and Westwood One will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended,” Philips wrote on the day of the U.S. Capitol riot. “The election has resolved, there are no alternate acceptable ‘paths.’ Please inform your staffs that we have ZERO TOLERANCE for any suggestion otherwise. If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately. There will be no dog-whistle talk about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘civil wars’ or any other language that infers violent public disobedience is warranted, ever.” Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Media Chicago, confirmed the memo’s content, adding: “Bottom line: We want our talent on all Cumulus stations to deal with facts and not conjecture. No issues with our local talent.” Bruce St. James, who succeeded inveterate conspiracy monger Erich Mancow Muller as WLS morning host last month, said: “We all received the local version of the memo which reminded us of the responsibility we have to our community to be honest, truthful and factual. Thankfully, our show does not, has not and will not peddle in conspiracy theories, nor lie to the audience to gain favor. In that vein, this directive won’t impact us at all.” The big question is whether the company’s syndicated hosts also will obey the edict. Hello, Mark Levin?

Chicago Tribune

After 93 years in the landmark neo-Gothic cathedral of journalism known as Tribune Tower, the Chicago Tribune packed up and moved to fancy new digs at Prudential Plaza in 2018. Now it’s on the move again. Tribune Publishing announced Monday it will relocate its newsroom and offices to Freedom Center, the Tribune’s printing plant at 777 West Chicago Avenue. “Our decision to move our offices from Prudential to Freedom Center helps to reorganize our physical footprint as we continue to navigate the pandemic, position the company for long-term sustainability and ensure the health of our organization for the future,” the company said in a statement. “Employees will be informed of details as they are finalized.” The cost-cutting plan was immediately blasted by Chicago Tribune Guild president Greg Pratt, who tweeted: “The @chicagotribune newsroom is leaving its office at Prudential for the Freedom Center, a printing plant that’s generally ill-equipped for such a move. This is another bad move.”

Phil Vettel

Add longtime restaurant critic Phil Vettel to the exodus of talent from the Chicago Tribune. “After much deliberation and considerable angst, I’ve accepted the Tribune’s buyout offer, and will leave the paper on Friday,” Vettel wrote on Facebook. “It has been a helluva ride: 41 years with the Tribune, 31-plus years as the paper’s restaurant critic. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the food of culinary giants — I’ll save the list for my farewell column — and have had the awesome responsibility of chronicling what I believe will come to be seen as a Golden Age of Chicago dining. I never forgot to appreciate that privilege, and I tried to execute my reviews faithfully and honestly.” Vettel joined the former Suburban Trib straight out of Eastern Illinois University in 1979. He was named the Tribune’s restaurant critic in 1989.

Mark Gonzales

Mark Gonzales, Chicago Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, also announced he’s taken a buyout from the paper. “I’m leaving the Tribune after more than 15 years,” he tweeted. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with so many talented editors, writers and photographers. I look forward to the next chapter TBD.” Gonzales, who grew up in Santa Clara, California, and graduated from San Jose State University, covered baseball for the Arizona Republic and San Jose Mercury News before joining the Tribune in 2005. He shifted from covering the White Sox to the Cubs in 2013.

Rick Telander

Rick Telander, senior sports columnist at the Sun-Times, was named to the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame Monday. The Peoria native and Northwestern University graduate joined the Sun-Times in 1995 after 22 years with Sports Illustrated, where he rose to senior writer. In other honors at the NSMA, Chicago White Sox announcer Jason Benetti was named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year, and Chicago Tribune sports reporter Shannon Ryan was named Illinois Sportswriter of the Year. Inductees and winners will be honored in June in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Jim Acosta

It’s been 20 years since Jim Acosta toiled in relative obscurity as a general assignment reporter in Chicago at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2. From there he launched his national career, first with CBS News and since 2007 with CNN. Now he’s known worldwide as CNN’s chief White House correspondent (and author of The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America). On Monday Acosta was named CNN’s chief domestic correspondent and weekend anchor. “On to the next adventure!” he tweeted. “After eight years at WH, I’m moving into a new role as anchor on weekends and chief domestic correspondent for @CNN, a new challenge I’m very excited about. Will miss my WH colleagues. But I know they’ll be great covering the Biden admin. See you soon!”

Deborah Douglas

Deborah Douglas, former editorial board member, columnist and editor at the Sun-Times, has just released U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events that Made the Movement. Published by Moon Travel Guides, it’s the first comprehensive guidebook and historical account covering the trail of churches, courthouses, schools, museums and other landmarks officially designated in 2018. “So many of the places I visited in writing this book are part of the daily fabric of our lives, but we miss opportunities to engage with them from viewpoint of greatness they represent,” Douglas said. “Thankfully, more cities and institutions are waking up to the narrative power of African American history, including the Civil Rights Movement.” Since 2018 Douglas has been the Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University.

Bryesha Adams

While Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 considers its options for morning traffic reporter, look for Bryesha Adams to fill in for the foreseeable future on “Good Day Chicago.” The position has been open since Michelle Alegria chose not to renew her contract earlier this month. (Alegria said her decision to leave Fox 32 after three years came after she had been “bullied and belittled” by an unnamed male colleague.) Adams, a lifelong Chicagoan who’s been with Total Traffic and Weather Network for 10 years, previously substituted for Alegria on the air and produced traffic reports for her predecessor, Jenny Milkowski. Adams also reported traffic for iHeartMedia Chicago stations.

Monday’s comment of the day: Regine Schlesinger: The collective loss of so much journalistic talent and integrity at one time is very sad. Howard Reich, Blair Kamin and Gary Marx all at one shot, what a blow to Chicago journalism! As for my former WBBM colleague, Len Walter, he was already a skilled reporter and anchor when I came on board in 1973. Then, he carved out a new niche as a business journalist and did it in a unique, inimitable style. Congratulations, Len, on an outstanding career. Enjoy the life of leisure and family time in a warmer climate. You’ve earned it.