Newt salute: Sun-Times owner speaks for himself

I’m sure it meant nothing to most readers of the Sun-Times. But to those with long memories and an appreciation for the paper’s history, the irony was rich indeed.

Leading off Monday’s Daily Splash celebrity puffery was a full-page essay written by Sun-Times chairman Michael Ferro, the media mogul wannabe whose investor group acquired the paper last December. Under the headline "Call of Duty" was a glowing salute to “overachieving Chicagoan” and powerhouse attorney Newton Minow.

In the opening paragraph, Ferro mentioned that he and his friend Minow (whom he calls “Newt”) attended a meeting at the White House with the director of health reform two years ago (which likely was a much bigger deal for Ferro than it was for Minow). He went on to cite Minow’s long and impressive list of accomplishments — from his service in World War II and his work with Governor Adlai Stevenson to his tenure as FCC chairman (where he famously called TV “a vast wasteland”) and his membership on numerous corporate and philanthropic boards.

But one thing Ferro didn’t mention in the piece was the pivotal role Minow played in the history of the Sun-Times: In 1983, when the Field family decided to sell the paper after more than four decades, the consigliere who helped seal the deal with Rupert Murdoch was none other than Newton Minow, who'd once served on the board of Field Enterprises.

Numerous published reports identified Minow as a key behind-scenes player who advised Marshall Field V and his brother, Frederick “Ted” Field, to spurn the competing offer that publisher James Hoge and his Chicago backers had made for the Sun-Times. Instead, Minow persuaded the Fields to sell to Murdoch.

Columnist Mike Royko, who was part of the Hoge group, never forgave Minow for what he considered a double cross. Though best known at the time for saying, “From what I’ve seen of Murdoch’s papers in this country, I don’t know if any self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in them,” Royko also said: “The name Marshall Field will go down in history next to that of Alphonse Capone. He sold out the city.” Royko stormed over to the Tribune, leading an exodus of great talent from the Sun-Times.

More than 28 years have passed since that dark day in Chicago journalism. Many trace the decline of the Sun-Times to that singular episode. And as honored and revered as he is elsewhere in Chicago and around the country, Newton Minow’s name was forever linked to the Murdoch debacle in the editorial offices and halls of the newspaper.

Here’s how Ferro closed his paean to Minow: “It seems that in addition to the debt of gratitude our nation owes him, I — along with our entire Sun-Times staff — owe him and his family a personal debt, as well. Newt is truly a great American!”

As I said, the irony was rich indeed.


Minow responds: "I opposed the sale of the Sun-Times."


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)