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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chicago Newspaper Exec: Caught Up In Chiquita Colombian Terrorist Scandal?

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Former Chiquita Chairman Cyrus Freidheim Jr. headed the Cincinnati banana company during some of the period it appears to have had illegal dealings with Colombian terrorists -- financial payments that were supposed to protect the company's workers from violence. Freidheim is now the top executive at Sun-Times media group, the company that publishes the Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid newspaper that is second in circulation behind the Chicago Tribune in that market.

The link between the newspaper exec and Chiquita has not been dwelled upon in media reports after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the Cincinnati banana producer last week. Reuters, the British news service, reported Freidheim's possible involvement in the Chiquita investigation.

"Sun Times Media said Freidheim has not been told he is a target of the probe. But he could face questions as a former officer and director of Chiquita."

On its surface, this looks really lousy. It means that a newspaper executive -- a journalist under broad legal definitions -- headed a corporation that admits it consorted with violent groups that the U.S. government officially classified as terrorist organizations. At worst, it means that newspapers are in the hands of bean counters who will do anything to make a buck. Forget the adages about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. At best, it could be said it means that running a multi-national fruit company with a history of sleazy dealings in Latin America takes the same skills as running a major metropolitan American newspaper.

Some 40,000 Colombians have died during four decades of violence between rightists, leftists, their paramilitaries, guerrilla groups and the central government. The country has 3 million displaced persons, a total that the UN says is among the highest on the planet. Freidheim, most in the news business should hope, is a great guy who set Chiquita on the straight and narrow. Anything else, it would seem, is too terrible to contemplate.

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