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The Sad Saga of Bob Greene

When a woman from his past resurfaced, the columnist’s 33-year career crashed; then a family tragedy hit home.

(page 14 of 15)

 

The e-mail contained a lot of detail, both about the writer and about her past relationship with Greene. It described the young woman’s meeting with Greene 14 years earlier and explained that he had written a column about her. The message stated that a few months later, when she was working at a summer job downtown, the two had met for several dinners at a Chinese restaurant near the Tribune. During one of those dinners, the e-mail reported, Greene had started ordering drinks for the young woman. More than once, they had ended up in a hotel room.

The woman also wrote that she had called Greene recently because she wanted to congratulate him on his book Once Upon a Town and she also wanted to speak to him because she had experienced a series of problems in her life, including a number of bad relationships. She wanted to put the past behind her. She stated in the e-mail that Greene had made it clear he did not want to talk to her, and she described the FBI phone call. She was angry at the way Greene was now treating her, she said, and was writing to the Tribune at the suggestion of her therapist. She also mentioned that she had been in touch with a lawyer.

On Wednesday, September 11th, Greene’s column was about the possibility that on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, there would be dancing in the streets in other parts of the world. It turned out to be his last column for the Tribune after 24 years. On that day, executives of the paper contacted the young woman.

By that Thursday, Greene had talked to the Tribune executives. According to Tribune reports, he offered to resign. Meanwhile, the paper continued its internal investigation, and Greene was suspended with pay.

That Friday, he was in Nebraska, where he delivered the keynote speech at the state book festival in Grand Island. Those who saw him there say he gave no indication of any stress in his life. He made another appearance on Saturday.

He had planned to go to North Platte that day. Instead, he was summoned back to the Tribune. Charles Peek, an English professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, was drafted to take Greene to the Omaha airport-a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Peek did not sense that Greene’s career hung in the balance. While Peek drove, Greene made a few phone calls, looked over some notes, and even took a nap. “He seemed fairly composed,” Peek recalls.

Also on Saturday, Lipinski and managing editor Jim O’Shea met with the young woman. Then Lipinski, O’Shea, and others met with Greene in the first of two discussions; sources say he was told not to bring his lawyer-a claim Lipinski disputes-and he did not. A Tribune lawyer was present for at least one of the meetings. In the first meeting, Greene claimed that his relationship with the young woman had stopped short of intercourse. He had entered the meeting feeling comfortable and confident, but at some point, according to a source, the Tribune’s questioning led him to believe that his job might be in jeopardy. By one account, he asked rhetorically, “Do you guys want my resignation?” According to this version of events, he was told that the discussion was confidential and strategic, an attempt to figure out how to handle the situation.

In Greene’s second meeting at the paper on Saturday, he said that he could not really remember what his relationship with the young woman had been. Then he was told that the Tribune was accepting the resignation he had offered. At that point, a source told Chicago, Greene said that he had never offered to resign, did not want to resign, and, in fact, wanted to stay at the Tribune.

“Absolutely untrue,” says Lipinski. “He offered his resignation and we accepted it.”

 

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