Chicago Tribune editors sat on the Rod Blagojevich story starting in October. Publishing Dec. 5th seems to have only pissed off the Justice Department and wrecked what might have been a much bigger scoop.

It seemed odd to us, at first, that the Trib, having broken the first story about the Blagojevich wiretap, failed to score an exclusive advance on wiretap transcripts, or of the Illinois governor's impending arrest. The paper's Dec. 5 scoop, which included no direct quotes from the wire, was quickly left in the dust.

On Sunday the Wall Street Journal filled in some of the backstory: The Tribune had some kind of deal with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and had been sitting on a story about how a Blago confidant was working with the feds. The paper unilaterally ended the deal Dec. 5 by publishing its exclusive.

What if the paper had waited just a bit longer? It was only Dec. 4, less than 24 hours before the Trib took the investigation public, that Blago ended a three-week silence about selling Obama's senate seat. He allegedly urged his brother to have a meeting with Jesse Jackson Jr.'s people because Jackson seemed the most likely to pony up cash for the seat.

The feds were royally pissed at the Trib, because they felt like they were thisclose to something bigger:

Members of Fitzgerald’s team are livid the scheme didn’t advance, at least for a little longer, according to some people close to Fitzgerald’s office. Why? Because had the plot unfolded, they might have had an opportunity most feds can only dream of: A chance to catch the sale of a Senate seat on tape, including the sellers and the buyers.

Now that would have been a tasty scoop for the Trib. A nice exclusive back in October might have been pretty sweet, too. It looks, from the outside at least, like the paper got the worst of both worlds: A long delay, without a big pop.