Rendell speaks, but won’t answer a critical question

    I’ve been away a few days, and I see Ed Rendell has been rattled out of his silence on the bid he and some powerful friends are making to become owners of Philadelphia’s papers and Philly.com.

    When I contacted him week ago, a spokeswoman for the former governor, mayor, and ubiquitous media presence wrote that he couldn’t answer my questions because of a “confidentiality agreement” governing his interest in Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

    That was before a New York Times piece revived old stories of Rendell lashing out at reporters, and author Buzz Bissinger wrote in a tough commentary that if Rendell’s group buys the company, Philadelphia “will become the first major city in the country to actually cease to have a real daily newspaper.”

    Ed was thus provoked into commenting on the subject at a community meeting, and as Bissinger’s guest Monday on Michael Smerconish’s radio show.

    Rendell reportedly said that if he and his crew get the media company he’d be willing to set up some kind of firewall to protect journalists from interference by the heavy-hitters in Team Rendell.

    But as far as I can tell, Rendell still hasn’t answered the question I posed to him last week: If his group gets the papers and the website, will they keep CEO and Publisher Greg Osberg in his job?

    The question arises because Osberg disgraced the profession of journalism earlier this month (see posts in the box above), and because Rendell said before that happened that Osberg has done “an excellent job” in running the company.

    I have my questions about whether he’s run the business side well (see this), but even if he has, it’s clear to me he has no credibility as a news executive among reporters at the papers, and replacing him is an essential first step to restoring faith in journalistic standards at the company.

    Many people I’ve spoken to at the papers believe the Rendell group has promised to keep Osberg, and that’s one reason he tilted coverage their way.

    In any case, today I re-submitted my questions to Rendell: Does he still think Osberg has done a good job? Can he credibly state that if his group gets the papers and Osberg is in charge, it won’t be a mouthpiece for the views and interests of him and his investors? Will his group retain Osberg as CEO and publisher?

    I got an immediate and cordial response from his associate, Kirstin Snow, saying that “He is not discussing the topic any more.”

    I thanked her and added this: “I have to say that is funny.”

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