AS THE TRIB TURNED . . . Two things about Chi Trib: 1. The hard-copy paper comes at you differently from the web version, for which placement on page plays no role and headlines far less a role. The result is that things come out straighter. 2. It's weak on news. For instance, reacting to page one, 5/25, who cares that Wal-Marts "endanger" Vermont, as "group says" in the headline? Who cares about Vermont? For that matter, who cares about Wal-Marts as an undermining influence?
To the first I say I don't know, except that Vermont has become a sort of Valhalla where really committed liberals are dying to live.
To the second I say graduates of politically correct campuses who speak to their own kind as Trib editors and reporters. Take columnist Dawn Turner Trice, who as a fledgling “about 14 years ago,” she said in her 5/3/04 column, almost got a Royko column killed by complaining about his use of the N-word. “Just starting out” at the Trib while working “one Sunday evening,” she “decided to read an electronic version” of the Royko column set to run the next day. “The column contained the N-word,” she wrote. Royko had used it before, “often,” she said, “mostly in quotes to disparage racists.”
Mostly? She knows where he used it except to disparage racists? Or is she just writing sloppily?
“The tragedy,” however, “was that even he [who mostly attributed it to racists] couldn't understand fully how painful and demeaning it was to see it in print,” wrote Turner Trice, who “honestly [did not] recall the exact point of Royko's column.” Neither could she remember the name of the “white woman” editor who was not offended by the word because of its context and did not kill the column.
A DIFFERENT TWIST . . . But Turner Trice apparently forgot other elements of that story and maybe never knew yet others or never read F. Richard Ciccone’s Mike Royko: A Life in Print (Public Affairs, 2001), in which he recounts apparently the same incident. Or she read it and forgot that too. Or Ciccone, veteran reporter and political editor and Trib managing editor, got it wrong. The odds, however, would not be with Turner Trice if she chose to enter the journalism-expertise ring with Ciccone.
The word was “monkeys,” as used by cops in Los Angeles in conversation with a police dispatcher in 1991, according to a transcript which Royko obtained. Were they monkeys? one cop asked the dispatcher, meaning African Americans. Informed they were not, he regrets the lost opportunity of some “monkey-slapping.”
Royko finished the column at 6:30 Sunday night and went home, Ciccone writes. About eight o’clock “a young African American editor” discovered the column and “became incensed” over it. “She rounded up several colleagues and urged them to read it. All . . . were young; some were minorities.” They complained to Carl Sotir, the news editor on duty, who agreed with them. The column was “offensive.”
Sotir called Ciccone, the managing editor, who was not at home. Then he called the deputy managing editor, Howard Tyner, who ordered the column killed – the first in Royko’s seven years at the Trib. Royko blew up. “I am resigning from that fucking newspaper,” he told Ciccone when he reached him at home at 10:30. “Those fucking assholes killed my column. I quit.”
Ciccone called the Trib, listened to the column read by an assistant news editor, and said, “Put it back in the paper.” This meant keeping trucks and drivers waiting, late arrivals at commuter stations, and putting a crimp in the day’s sales, but presses were stopped and the column was restored. Ciccone called and told Royko, who said he quit anyway. But next day he came in as usual.
AFTERMATH . . . The column ran, and of 600,000 Trib readers none complained – none echoed those staffers alerted apparently by Turner Trice, whom Ciccone does not name. The cause became celebre. Wash Post’s media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote it up. So did Editor & Publisher. Royko blamed “naive young staffers more interested in political correctness than good journalism” (Ciccone’s words), not Tyner, who hadn’t read the whole column. Which seems overly generous to Tyner: it’s like the driver whose view of traffic was blocked but went ahead anyway.
It also seems overly generous of Trib managers to have given a column (later) to a palpably minor-league talent such as Turner Trice, unable to get facts straight but willing to call up the incident, as her column lead, no less, to bolster her case against politically incorrect language. In which column the neither sadder nor wiser Turner Trice can vaguely, fecklessly recall her own inverted touch with greatness as a sample of the way things are supposed to be.
SHE MAKE-A ME LAUGH . . . "Is there a greater joy in life than telling people what to do?" asks Paige Wiser in her "Planet Paige" column in Sun-Times for 6/5/03.
IT MAKE-A ME PAY ATTENTION . . . Thursday night at the Lake to see "Italian Job," one must check one's ticket for which of seven screens to head for, because the young lady taking it barks out "seven" when it's "one."
This meant I stood in the rear of the dark screening room for two scenes of Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty," catching him in sharp exchange with Jennifer Alston, thinking it a preview, before realizing it wasn't and heading for the main lobby five screening rooms away to ask another young lady which was it for "Italian Job."
Yet earlier, another young lady, taking my money, had been aggressively leisurely about it, making a point, it would seem, that this was "white folks wait" time, which it was. As for the one who said "seven" not "one," it had earmarks of Jesse Jackson time, as when he spat in white folks' soup as a youthful waiter back in Carolina, as he told in his 11/69 Life interview and was reported in 7/72 NY Times article. Gave him "psychological gratification," he said.)
Otherwise, the Lake was fine, and "Italian Job" finer. This was pure suspend-incredibility time with enough identifiable characters to elicit one of those special film-going moments when audience gasps approval, in this case when the heroine punched (with cracking sound) the villain. Hit 'em, girl, he deserves it, one could not help but think. Villain also deserves what he will be getting from immigrant-Ukrainian mafiosi (in LA) in (we believe justified) punishment for his offing the cousin of top mafioso in full expression of his dastardly villainy. Hand it to Edward Norton for his cold-blooded depiction.
A fine film indeed, full of fun even when there's cold-blooded killing. It's the sensibility that counts here. This film does not dwell morbidly on bad things but portrays good and evil and -- once disbelief is suspended, which is fine, because it's a movie and nothing to take seriously -- you have good winning over evil, which is how it should be.
You gather that I do not require or want movies to tell me how things are: they are not trustworthy. Do I want Oliver Stone instructing me on the JFK killing? No, I do not. But show me winning people, convincing villains, action including car, speedboat, and motorcycle chases woven into the story, and story is everything here, as it should be, modest characterization notwithstanding, and you have the kind of movie we should always have, WHICH I RECOMMEND.
THE CASE OF BOSTON V. PHILA. . . . Letters to TLS (London Times Lit Supplement) have cachet, such as this back-to-back pair of 4/18/03 that combine verve with substance:
#1 -- From U. of Penn. urbanity studies dept. (sorry, urban studies, but what about suburban studies?) comes rejoinder to letter -- a letter is rarely the end of it in these pages -- that said Boston seemed to be "the city of American origins." Sorry, says the Penn man, it's Philadelphia, where the Declar. of Independence and Constitution were written, the first two congresses met, and Betsy Ross sewed the first flag. And it was the first capital on top of all that.
Thus the substance, now the verve:
"Unlike Thomas Bender [the Boston man], who remonstrates with Barnet Schecter [a reviewer by now lost in the shuffle] for what he didn't write, I wish to remonstrate with Bender for what he did write," wrote Mark P. Gaige [the Penn man], producing a sample of parallel structure to rate with Caesar's came, saw, [and] conquered.
THE CASE OF THE COMMERCE-MINDED AUTHOR . . . # 2 -- From 8 Gloucester Crescent, London, seeks benignly to "correct an assumption" in a "flattering review" of his book, that the title and jacket were the idea of its commercially motivated and compromised publisher. "I dreamed up the title" (April Blood) and picked the cover, says Lauro Martines, taking the fall.
TLS letters are literate and engaging and readable for structure and attention to detail. But they also reveal people listening to each other in civilized fashion.
THE CASES OF GUINNESS . . . Celts oppressed in Eire? Natl Post of Canada reports a complaint to the UN by the Irish-based Retrieve Foundation, that dope & booze have been used to keep Celts down, classifying them (in their own country, where they are a distinct majority!) with other oppressed peoples, such as Pygmies in central Africa and Laplanders (now Saami) in Scandinavia. The Irish govt. did it, says Mrs. Connolly's daughter Margaret, wearing her foundation garment. "Too many young Celts [are] on drugs & alcohol," she says.
Which is why the sign said in the St. Patrick's Day parade on State Street 20 years ago, "If God wanted the Irish to rule the world, he wouldn't have invented alcohol." Self-mockery reaches new heights.
Irish P.M. Bertie Ahern is also grappling with this issue, as in his recent keynote speech to the Euro Brewery Convention, when he cited loss of productivity from drinking. But if he's part of the Irish government that's forcing drugs and drink on its unsuspecting citizens, he's not one to talk.
TO BE AMBITIOUS, OR NOT TO BE? . . . In a 1989 paperback preface to his 1980 book Ambition: The Secret Passion, Joseph Epstein speaks of finishing (writing) a book and feeling only then that you know how to write it -- differently. A book? How about a sentence?
E. offers a defense of ambition, dissed by the aggressively laid-back, calls it "the fuel of achievement," says the presence in the world of empty ambition need not quash study of the good kind. "Drunkenness down the hall" needn't interfere with enjoyment of good wine.
In medio stat virtus, I say.
The secrecy part is from H. Melville, who called ambition "the most secret of all passions," as E. says in an opening quote.
HOW MANY KINDS DOES IT TAKE? . . . In discussion with Atlantic Online 6/30/99, Epstein began to describe "two kinds of writers," but thought immediately of Robert Benchley's comment and had to mention it: "There are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't."
The recollection did not stop him. His two kinds of writers were one who tells you "things you never thought of or didn't know before" and one who tells you what you know but have "never quite formulated." In his opinion he's among the latter, but that depends on the reader.
SHE MAKE-A ME LAUGH TOO . . . Ann Coulter says, wittily, "the only evidence that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction" is that Clinton said he did, on his Day of Impeachment, to justify his (non-Kosovo) bombing. On that day he cited the Iraqi regime's "nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs." (6/7/03)
Friday March 21, First Day of Spring:
. . . Posting a message to the troops at Center for Individual Freedom Message board, I wrote: Godspeed to all you men and women (troops). You make the world a safer place. Safer for democracy and little children, to name two.
As I wrote it, I realized I was using WW1 language, the making world safe for democracy part. It's a bold, bold thing we are trying, throwing our weight around in a spurt of (egad) Wilsonian and Rooseveltian idealism, with some of Harry Truman while we're at it.
I say "we" and "our," you notice, which would not fly in today's preferred journalistic references, which are almost all to "the Bush administration." The mainstream mostly finds itself at odds with our elected leader -- he won the electoral college and was inaugurated, as we know -- and distances itself (themselves).
. . . For instance, consider questioners at today's p.c. of Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers who asked (a) long questions, the longer to be on camera, that (b) what's been asked before, apparently to catch Rummy in his speech. (They didn't.)
One beauty came from a fellow who in the end elicited a clarification from Rumsfeld that the Iraqi regime has killed hundreds of thousands. If you think it's a little late for him to have to explain that, what of (same guy) asking whether the Baghdad citizenry would not "hunker down" under "shock & awe" bombing of their beloved leaders' bunkers and meeting halls and experience a steeling of their resolve to resist the invader.
Not all of this was explicit, but it was contained in this gent's question, which referred explicitly to the citizens of Hanoi, Britain, Japan, and other cities and countries that did not knuckle under. He thinks of Mrs. Miniver, apparently, but maybe of the St. Crispin's Day soldiers -- "We few, we happy few." Wouldn't give up on it either, asking whether more citizens will die because there are so many missiles after Rumsfeld alluded for the 15th time to their accuracy.
The guy was apparently so convinced of massive civilian casualties -- he had Guernica in mind? -- that he couldn't believe the accuracy claim and was dying for Rumsfeld to slip and talk about the need to break eggs to make an omelet -- what the NY Times man said in the 30s about the Russian Revolution.
I say give that guy a Nieman Fellowship. He can go to Harvard and study history.
. . . And while we are giving fellowships, let's given an award to Chicago Trib's Michael Tackett -- its Washington-based "senior correspondent" and chief provider of "analysis" for its news pages nestled in with real news stories as a trap for the unwary -- for smoking out Joe Lockhart for his 3/21 piece.
Lockhart was Clinton's 2nd press secretary, following on the heels of the wise-cracking Mike McCauley. Recently he has (a) hosted and joshed with moviemaker Michael Moore at Aspen and (b) told Rush Limbaugh to "keep his mouth shut" about Clinton's alleged and never denied rape of the Broaddrick woman in 1978 and his refusing extradition of Osama Bin Laden when the Sudanese wanted to get rid of him in 1996.
Tackett got to Lockhart for analysis of how the military's "embedding" of reporters in its ranks, as the headline has it, "helps . . . sell the war." His analysis is embedded with news stories, as I said, so it sneaks up on the reader.
Joe had this to say: "I think the White House and the military establishment have programmed an irresistible story for journalists in this country. For every hour of battle planning, there's another room where they are figuring out, '"How do we present this in a way that will bring support to what we are doing?'
"The risk is that you don't present a fair version of what is going on. It's much harder to be open about mistakes than about heroic efforts of our soldiers. And I can guarantee you that mistakes are made. They always are."
Thank you, Joe Lockhart, and thanks to you, Michael Tackett for pulling off that difficult interview.
. . . Two other news-pages-embedded Tackett analyses for the week were headed "Bush focused, firm in outlining goals," 3/20, and "Bush taps America's new fear," 3/18, the first of which is unusually favorable to our commander-in-chief, the second oddly negative. Tapping our fear this time around seems reasonable; Tackett doesn't have newfound fear to tap since 9/11?
The fourth Tackett analysis of the week is headed "Big hype, less hope for Bush's goodwill efforts," 3/15, which shows you can't keep a good nay-sayer down.
. . . This "Access to media helps military sell the war" (today's analysis), by the way, taps our yearning for the latest from academic groves, especially where high-level journalistic consideration takes place on a regular basis.
Thus in addition to Lockhart, Tackett got to press pundits at Syracuse U. ("This war almost resembles the Olympics . . . a miniseries") and U. of Pennsylvania ("There is the possibility that you humanize the soldiers and some of them come home in a body bag"). Alas, this was buried on page 6.
. . . Elsewhere in the world of journalism, Sun-Times's Paige Wiser asks why Scottish Americans can't "aim a little higher" than a parade, which they have just gotten a permit for from the city. "If they feel the need to compete with Chicago's Irish, they could have held out for something really cool, like dyeing the river plaid."
The trouble with quoting Ms. Wiser is, there's a cumulative effect in her columns. Sentence meshes with sentence, paragraph with paragraph. You are all commanded to read her every day. (3/21/03)
HEADLINES TO MAKE ONE WEEP . . . Chicago Tribune headlines are the '00s equivalent of the '30s radio commentator HV (Hans von) Kaltenborn, who often introduced his nightly report with the bracing line, "There's bad news tonight." So on 3/17/03 Trib front page had "British pullout would strain U.S." and "Glitches riddle database to track foreign students."
The day before had "Global warning issued on pneumonia outbreak"; "Captures [of high-ranking Al Q men] reopen tribunal questions: Terrorism suspects seen as candidates," a civil rights story, and "Profit motive [egad!] feared in patenting of breast cancer cells."
Also: "Loving a soldier, hating a war" with head shots of son-sergeant on way to battle and war-protesting mother amd "Baghdad calm amid threat of new war." To this Reuters responded next day with "Baghdad residents suddenly jittery as war looms." Both were stories out of Baghdad, where blind men were giving us various versions of the elephant.
Another: "Pay gap closing," male-female, that is, "with an asterisk: The explanation: Men's wages fell."
The heads are gloomy enough, but they also reflect hoked-up stories. The loving-soldier, hating-war head is heartstrings stuff with an anti-war twist. The pay-gap and tribunal-for-terrorists stories directly address largely liberal concerns. The profit-motive head is laughable in itself and will bring yawns to jaws of capitalists everywhere. Pneumonia outbreak is a real story; the sub-head should say "real news here."
OFF THE FRONT PAGE . . . Trib knows how to deliver mostly straight news, of course, being full of professional people. See its Metro section, where on Sunday 3/16 the thumbs came out of sucking position and we had these headlines: "Bond set in suffocation death: Baby-sitter accused of killing 16-month-old" [bad news but hard]; "Officer returns fire, kills gunman"; "Car Crash leaves 2 teens dead"; and "Military chaplains answer 2 callings: Church's pastors may see action."
As for "Locals fight for farmland: The U. of I. plans to sell land to the state for grassland restoration, but some believe a legal quirk may help thwart the transaction," one can only ask, Would you please repeat that?
On Monday 3/17, Metro had "Demonstrators say no to war"; "Partner in tiger ring set for trial: Participant says killings were legal," about slaughtering beasts for body parts [!]; "Officer given tribute as hero"; "Graffiti crew hits 10-year mark," 10th-anniversary story of city "Graffiti Blasters" program; and "I-57 rehab is sure to be paved with traffic delays."
There are two kinds of bad news. Hard and bad means you gotta tell it, soft and bad means you don't. Soft comes too often from the wrinkled brow of editor and writer trying to say something IMPORTANT. Hard comes from the need to report it. Chi Trib too often saves its ability to go hard for its Metro section. Why is that?
TOO BUSY . . . Here's an item that Trib editors may feel is beneath them, something the right-wing conspiracy might concoct, except it's from a the U.S. Lt. Colonel who carried the "nuclear football" for Clinton and was to remain within 40 feet of him at all times, from a new book by the man, how retired Lt. Col. Robert Patterson, Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America's National Security.
Among eyewitnessed items are these: Clinton once lost the nuclear warhead codes (on the day the Monica story broke), and they had to be changed; he couldn't be reached when we had Osama in our sights and needed his OK to zap him, in the fall of 1998; and he was tied up watching a golf match in 1996 and could not OK a bombing mission on Iraq.
THE GREAT UNREADABLE CHICAGO TRIBUNE . . . The lady of the house said Chi Trib is hard to read. I said that's often been my experience, it's because the Trib is badly written. You sit there and wonder why it's so much work to figure out what's being said, feeling vaguely that it's your fault, when it isn't.
You read and understand a well-written piece without giving it a second thought, so you think it's your fault when it's hard work. But good writing disguises itself. It gets you right to what's said, amusing you maybe along the way but first and foremost getting ideas to you.
If Cardinal Newman did seven drafts of whatever went to the printer, can't newspaper writers give a second look? Copy editing would also help.
COLUMNIST STRUGGLES . . . Meanwhile, Chi Trib's Dawn Turner Trice, its woefully inadequate answer to Sun-Times's Mary Mitchell, both viewing the world from a presumably black and female perspective, wants to get to the bottom of the recent night club mass deaths but for most of her column does not want to hear about the partying parents who died leaving little ones at home motherless. "Their lives had value," she writes 3/3, intending to restore "sympathy" for them, which she thinks is in danger of being "scaled back."
She asks rhetorically if these dead lived "pristine, perfect" lives, seeking to defuse blame on them for partying while kids stayed home. What's a pristine life anyway? Who live perfect lives anywhere? No one. It's a sneaky way of admitting they were off base, but so what?
The victims should have known better, because after midnight you never know what will happen, some said, alluding to after-hours shenanigans. But the 9/11 catastrophes happened in broad daylight, Trice argues. Ah-hah!
She asks if the reported ability of one Rhode Island fire victim to balance things on his chin and other post-mortem items "make a difference in the fact" that they died in the fire. "It shouldn't," she says. [Memo to Dawn: Worry not. It won't. They still died.]
The Chicago victims were African American and so were good targets for painting "with the same tired brush," she says. [Brush to painter: "Don't use me again, I'm tired."]
"No one, not even me, is above" harshly judging the victims, she says. Frankly, my dear, it's "not even I."
Switching gears without warning, she drops a truly remarkable paragraph, intended apparently to refute a new opponent, one who objects to telling derogatory information about the victims because it reflects badly on the black community:
"If . . . kids left behind [by night-clubbing parents] made some . . . wince, too bad. If the [disproportionate] number of single parents [night-clubbing] perpetuated [i.e., verified] a stereotype, so what? If this disaster was just another incident that casts the black community in [an unfavorable] light, get over it."
Yes, ma'am, as soon as I get over reading your column.
COLUMNIST SCORES DIRECT HIT . . . . Neil Steinberg in 3/7 Sun-Times column deconstructs the fallen-columnist Bob Greene story as most recently constructed by Bill Zehme's Esquire article (April), likening Greene to a vampire prepared to rise from the dead and again threaten readers with vapid and creepily self-serving columns and (who knows?) young women as seducible objects. Steinberg at his best, speaking of Greene's "sham persona [and] hyperventilated prose" and doing his journalistic subject up brown partly with this prose which is ventilated just right:
"I'm proud . . . that back in the 1980s [in Chicago Reader] I was drawing attention to the falsity of his world, the insularity, the utter wrongness of writing a column, four times a week, whose single theme was that the world was a terrible place and getting worse. Proud to contradict a man who actually believes the world ended in 1964. Who made a habit of lingering over child abuse stories, massaging the details, day after day, in a fashion that some thought was caring, but others, myself included, viewed as practically sick."
That, I submit, captures the world of the [journalistically speaking] late Bob Greene.
Warren of the Trib & "Radical Chic"
Chi Trib's James Warren, at play again in the fields of the Nixon tapes, says Tom Wolfe in his Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1970, earlier in NY Mag) "brilliantly satirized" Leonard Bernstein's party for Black Panthers in his Park Avenue apartment.
Satirized? He didn't satirize it. He reported it, down to the last telling detail, exposing Bernstein and his wealthy, chic friends as insufferable phonies.
Our language's best-known satirist, Swift, MADE UP Gulliver's Travels. Wolfe did not make it up when he told about Bernstein and friends. Instead, he engaged in journalism with an edge, telling us about leftist dilletantism, celebrity-style.
Nixon knew about Wolfe and talked about his work? Good, though Warren presents his mentioning it as part of what makes him look bad. More to the point, Warren has a funny idea about what's satire and what's good reporting. (1/22/03)
STREAKING . . . More from the noose papers: Began busy-reading day with Sun-Times mini-paper, Red Streak, which reads like a radio newscast, AND THAT'S OK!
How much time do I want to give the Daily Noose anyhow? Not enough to interfere with meatier stuff such as TLS and what I find through www.aldaily.com, not to mention Thomas De Quincey reminiscing about Coleridge and Wordsworth and Ann Coulter making yet another case against the liberal "blabocracy" in print, on the air, and on screen -- hard on the heels, I might add, of CBS insider Bernard Goldberg's Bias. I stay busy with the old bifocals, which have proven a very good investment.
STAY OFF MY PORCH . . . So in Red Streak, www.chicagoredstreak.com, we have, p. 3, "Gays, guns mixing: The NRA's got nothing on the Pink Pistols," with its arresting lead:
"Lisa Miner had just let her dogs out one afternoon when she noticed a stranger inside her enclosed front porch.
"She grabbed her handgun from a nearby television, loaded it and told him to leave. When he didn't, she shot him, she said."
Why can't all newspaper stories start that way?
STAY OFF MY BACK . . . Or this, about top-gunner Tom Cruise headed "Cruise wins defamation lawsuit over gay affair comments":
"Tom Cruise won a $10 million defamation judgment against a porn actor who allegedly told the French magazine Actustar that he had a gay affair with the actor, Cruise's attorney said."
This is a lead, "lede," as commonly written in the trade, that gets to the nub. It has in mind today's equivalent of the strap-hanger, one who read the paper while standing on streetcar. Or "people who move their lips when they read," as the late Bill Mooney, named by Royko in his farewell Chicago Daily News column as one from he learned how to be a newspaper writer, used to say. Or people who don't, who would like in a newspaper to get to it quickly.
OVEREXCITED, DARE WE SAY IT, SQUARE? . . . Chi Trib has its own red paper, called red something or other. Both are for free at various boxes around town but 25 cents at my White Hen, where the clerk kindly suggested I go to those other places if I wanted it for free. But as usual, the Trib's version is just enough off the mark to make it the world's second-greatest newspaper. (Can you picture WSGN radio?)
It has done two things to defeat its role as relevant, accurate news-on-the-go: It has over-emphasized graphics and under-emphasized type face. The Trib's red-something is in type reserved for advertorials, copy stuck in the middle of news columns that is paid advertisement and so must stick out from the news copy with its own flabby, flaccid type face. The whole red-something is in this type.
The graphics, meanwhile, are zany. If you disagree, and this is very broad-stroke criticism, then it's another case of what makes horse races. If you agree, on the other hand, then you're right!
SHORT STUFF . . . There's more in Sun-Times Red Streak, such as the boxed stories on today's pp. 4&5, each box with short-short heads in upper right corner: Robbery, Dumbed-down, Death Penalty, Archdiocese, Citizenship, Maryville. These are white-on-black, by the way. Each story fits in the same-sized box, each a sort of news-story sonnet.
Of "9 MORE [one-paragraph] THINGS," running down the side of p. 5, six merited circling by this critic sitting in the Subway sandwich joint on Lake St. over watery coffee -- Dangerous L stop, Woods still closed (where the woman was killed by the pit bull), First openly gay alderman, Changing rules of the [police] chase, Smoking compromise [for restaurants], and Ryan backlash [vs. blanket death-row commutation]. [1/17/03]
Let us now read the noose papers -- 1/14/03
ONE IS ENOUGH . . . Chi Trib first, with its one news story on p. 1: A downstate prosecutor will seek the death penalty for a serial killer, no matter what now-ex-Gov. George Ryan did about emptying Death Row with his blanket commutations and pardons.
Otherwise, there are these weaklings:
* The new gov's swearing-in, with a flabby, no-news, 46-word lead sentence-paragraph that began, "Vowing to shake up the status quo," etc., as if new govs of the incoming party don't always vow that.
* "Feral dogs" in the woods, with customary slow, 2nd-day lead: "Steve Cieslewicz was awake all night," etc., when the thing was, a jogger got chewed to death by a stray pit bull.
* A customary grim-foreboding piece, this one about coming Iraq-war urban warfare.
* Talks seen as answer to N. Korean nuclear crisis: "Officials suggested" something, to satisfy our itch to know what officials are suggesting these days.
* Story bottom left, with pic of man tickling boy whom he and his wife are adopting along with the boy's five brothers. Lead: "Rebecca Landmark first saw a picture of the five brothers" etc. -- nothing so straight as "Couple adopt six orphans." In any case, this was our human-interest, sentimental story.
PIT BULLS AND GOVERNOR . . . Moving to Sun-Times, we find the usual slam-bang, more concise, more pointed copy: "Moments after declaring himself a 'pro-growth governor' sympathetic to small business, Gov. Blagojevich put corporate Illinois on notice Monday that it could wind up helping plug a 'staggering' $5 billion hole in the state treasury," reads the 35-word lead sentence-paragraph. This is typical Demagogue Party nonsense from the horse's mouth that serves as reminder that the new man's not a Republican.
Also on p. 1, "Woman killed by pit bull had 3 kids" refers to a p. 8 story. That's the story, not that cops are warning about feral dogs. (How's "fierce" or "man-eating"?)
P. 6 has death-penalty-seeking prosecutors again, but in Chi-area Cook and DuPage counties, not just one case downstate, as the Trib has.
The p. 8 pit bull story leads with people in the Dan Ryan Woods neighborhood saying they have been complaining about the dogs (!), rather than a young man not sleeping because his mother was killed, as Trib has. That's what you call moving a story along, rather than inviting us to wallow in grief, which is a very cheap way to draw readers in.
P. 8 also has a "study in black and white" story about job-searchers with "black" first names getting 50% fewer callbacks -- Kristen or Brad over Rasheed or Aisha, etc. Too bad for the employer who too quickly rules people out, but the name advertises more than one's race.
Consider the pit bulls in Ryan Woods, which is close to white and black neighborhoods. From which neighborhood do you think the dogs come, the black or white? Which community is generally less organized, has lower social indicators such as rate of divorce or imprisonment? Many an employer would rather not buy into that, choosing instead the mainstream candidate.
LO, THE GONE FARMER . . . I'm not man enough to feel the pain of Chi Trib Mag letter writer Catherine Brandt Schaefer, of far suburban Naperville (1/12/03 paper), who found a 12/1/02 Mag story "devastatingly sad to read." She kept on reading it anyhow, even if it told how a farm owner, seeking "some measure of comfort and security in his old age . . . was seduced by developers into selling his heritage, his history, his very identity." He took the money and ran?
To achieve such and such, he did such and such, seduced by so & so, is what she's trying to say. Did the Trib editor spot the rawness and decide to let it go, seduced by the desire to be a nice guy even in the face of an impossible sentence? That's one possibility.
"Sitting in my comfortable suburban home . . . reading about [the farmer's] life and his loss," she continued, "I was moved to tears." Over the sold-out farm-owner? Maybe, but definitely for herself and her family: "Your article confirmed my deepest fears: that in choosing to build a new house in a subdivision, [we] have lost much more than we have gained."
It worked this way. They moved into a new house surrounded by "open spaces" (her quote marks), but now the spaces are gone. "I have witnessed farm after farm and field after field succumb to the seemingly unending march of the developer's bulldozer."
"A certain amount of development and growth are [sic] necessary," she concedes. She just wishes more thought went into the planning, so that she could look out and see "row after row of crops" instead of "row after row" of houses, with fast-food restaurants on the side.
Unable now to watch corn grow, she concludes, "we are losing our connection to the land . . . and in the process . . . are losing our very souls."
I sincerely doubt that and moreover wonder why the Trib permits such overwrought rant in its space. Do Trib editors share this woman's pain? Or does one of them dislike her and want her to embarrass herself?
On top of that, where is this woman's priest, minister, rabbi, or imam when she needs him or her for a shoulder to cry on and maybe some relief from what seems to be guilt and is at least muddled thinking? (1/13/03)
LETTER . . . Memo to Chi Trib's RC Longworth, who wrote Sunday that the U.S. is heading toward war with Iraq "in the face of heavy opposition, not only around the world but at home":
Dear Dick: It would have been a good place right here to say something short and sweet about polls, like the mid-October results that showed 60-70% of Americans supporting (with reservations) the use of force to remove Saddam. You might also have cited pollster John Zogby, who said then that the U.S. peace camp was still a tiny minority. (Or Parapundit.com's Sept. 15 essay, http://www.parapundit.com/archives/000064.html, on conflicting interpretations of poll results.)
If this is what you mean by heavy opposition at home, then at least we readers would know it and judge accordingly. If you report, we can decide, Dick, like that cable news organization whose name escapes me right now. Such additions to your well-crafted column would also add to its credibility.
OUR HORSEMAN IN HAVANA IS WAYLAID BY CHI TRIB . . . 11/4/02 -- My friend and work partner Ken got written up in Chi Trib a few weeks ago, Sept. 18 to be exact. So congratulations, Ken! Big time publicity! Who wouldn't like it?
Ken, for one, and let us see if we blame him.
Gary Marx was the peerless journalist who sat with Ken for three hours in Havana, where Gary is the Trib's man. He replaced Laurie Goering, who went to S. Africa. She and Ken keep their horses in the same stable, Ken tells me. She helped him buy the horse he is riding around Cuba on. She told her Trib bosses about Ken, apparently said he'd make good copy. Then she was transferred.
Gary inherited the idea: that's enough to piss a reporter off in the first place. You like your own ideas, not someone else's. So he may not have been happy to have to do Ken. Moreover, he apparently decided Ken's a jerk and wrote accordingly, as we shall see.
The result was irony on wry with a lecherous-old-retiree twist. Nice going, Gary.
HORSE, LAWN, BEER . . . Ken, "our horseman in Havana," per the headline writer, earned instant celebrity Cuban-style by riding his horse on an "exquisitely manicured" lawn in pursuit of a beer, wrote Gary.
It was part of Ken's riding Cuba and writing a book about it. The BBC is in on this. Ken's a British subject out of Scotland by way of service in the British army, where he served post-WW2 in the Queen's Body Guard, a sort of Secret Service in uniform. Ken is an inveterate meeter and greeter of people high and low on the social and economic scale.
He talks your arm and leg off, naming names of people he's chatted up and hit it off with, from Norman Mailer to Winston Churchill's granddaughter to Indonesian factory workers and Mexican-American busboys. Churchill is a someone in Cuba, by the way, having covered its contest with Spain as a young reporter.
Forget that. Instead, with Gary M. let us take that horse on the lawn for a beer and Ken's picture on the Hotel Nacional wall, and let us mock it: "There are shots of [an] internationally renowned musician from the Buena Vista Social Club [and of] the late Camilo Cienfuegos, one of Cuba's most revered revolutionary heroes. But who's the gray-haired guy pictured on horseback below them? That's Kenneth Houston Paterson." Chi Trib's horseman in Havana.
"You may not know Paterson, a 66-year-old retiree who hails from Mundelein, but he's used to hanging around famous people. Paterson says he was a bodyguard for England's Queen Elizabeth, and once baby-sat a young Prince Charles."
This reporter does not recall Ken's speaking of the bonny young prince, but he does know (and Marx might easily ascertain) that there is a corps, Britain's oldest, created by Henry VII in 1485, called the Queen's Body Guard, which is different from being "a bodyguard" for Queen Elizabeth as we use the term and as Marx used it, being pressed for time, you know and not willing to use Google.
Who cares? On with the Gary Marx show.
Ken has his picture on the historic wall, why? "His stunning achievement [irony on wry, I told you] was riding his horse across the Nacional's back lawn and ordering a beer."
Ken says he had been told to do that (ride right up) by one of the Fidelista apparatchiks he got next to while (a) pursuing his lifelong habit of chatting people up and (b) arranging a ride that, corny or not, would have legs, he was betting, in much the way a Chi Trib Tempo article has legs.
Ken is a feature writer, like hundreds of thousands of others. So-&-So climbs Kilimanjaro, and if he's for the ages, he writes a short story about the snow up there. But if he's like most of us, he writes a book and articles about it, in this case riding across Cuba. "The requisite book," says Marx. Yawn. Poor guy. He has to write this requisite article about someone else's idea.
AGING ROUÉ . . . You heard Ken was 66. Gary probably got that right. A few paragraphs later, Ken is "an aging Scottish-American" (who should know better: Andrew Carnegie would never have done this). His ride up the lawn was a "cheap stunt." What's more, Ken is "symbolic of the place the foreigner now holds in today's dollar-hungry Cuba." Oh? What is this, a disquisition on the Cuban economy?
"The backpacker, the package tourist, the adventurer, they're all here, as well as people like Paterson, who seek to reinvent themselves or live out a fantasy in a place where just a few bucks go a long way toward distinguishing the haves from the have-nots.
"It's common," Marx continues, "to see American or European men in their 60s with Cuban 'girlfriends' barely out of their teenage years. Paterson's lady-friend is 25."
Ken recalls Gary pressing him on the point. Who does your translating? Ken named three women. What are their ages? Why? Just curious, said Gary. Uh-huh. Ken named them, including the youngest, who in Gary's story became the lady-friend.
This is how it's done, you J-school students. It's easy. You probe and pry, you get your information, you get your man! You are the FBI, CIA, and Suspicious-Appearances Squad all in one, with press pass stuck in your fedora. You know what you are after. It fits your theme in this case of post-revolutionary tourist Cuba hungry for bucks preyed upon by aging Scots who used to work "9 to 5" for Motorola, but now indulge fantasies with buck-hungry Cuban gels.
Ah journalism. What a calling.
CLEVER SCOT . . . Ken tells great stories, "claiming to be buddies with Ernest Hemingway's old first mate here, a couple of retired Cuban generals and Winston Churchill's granddaughter." Hey Gary, did he ask for the interview? He's sitting there munching eggs in his string tie and your newspaper wants a story on him, and he talks about himself, claiming this or that but you don't believe him? Then why tell us about it, except to unload your apparent irritation at him and/or the stupid editors back on Michigan Avenue and/or your fourth-grade physics teacher who embarrassed you in front of the class?
Ken has "a ton" of "determination and chutzpah." He "strolled around the Hotel Nacional greeting employees as if he were . . . Castro himself," glad-handing employees and convicting himself of something sinister, apparently.
Anyway you slice it, here in Cuba the doughty Marx, taking a break from his real work, has found "a former corporate middle manager, divorced, with two grown kids, [who] expresses little surprise that his life has ended up in Cuba, on the back of a muscular quarter horse."
At Motorola he was "Motorola University publisher," someone told the Trib. He was publisher of Motorola University Press, of which he made a financial go. And yes, Virginia, Motorola University is what Motorola called its training operation, from which emanated said Press, publisher of training books and pamphlets.
The Hotel Nacional dining room manager called Ken "eccentric but very decent and educated" and said he "conducts himself well with everyone. He has won over our admiration and love."
Not a bad description from what I know, and maybe even an encomium, but it did not fool Marx, who commented, "It didn't hurt that Paterson eats most of his meals in the hotel every day." The devious rat.
FOR OUR LIBERAL FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES WHERE THE READERS WENT (9/21/02) . . . Friday, 9/20, Chicago newspaper readers went for the Big Two stories if they had any idea what newspapers are for: 1. The two guys who jumped a Royals coach at Sox Park and 2. (Sun-Times only) the sister who was passenger on the train that killed her brother the cop on a stakeout.
The first was on page one of Sun-Times as "Chaos at Comiskey," which surely implied more than the jumping and piling on by angry Royals players. (Did fans erupt en masse and pour on to the field in pursuit of umpires?) The Trib story (sports page only) unfortunately was full of redundant comments by the Sox general manager, whose way with words goes with his unsuccessful record -- he who speaks badly thinks badly is the rule here: By his words we know him for an unclear thinker.
Sun-Times got from Sox management that the two assailants are father & son. (Next day everyone knew that, even the Trib.) Angle alert! Angle alert! We got (typically) better on-scene reporting by S-T. It's the culture, stupid? Trib culture seems to militate against the clean and direct and aggressive in reporting and writing. (But they love those second-day and Sunday thumb suckers, with its opportunity to generalize and analyze.)
HARD FALL FROM GLORY . . . Ousted Chi Trib columnist Bob Greene -- he admitted "inappropriate" sexual activity with a school girl 10 years ago, his firing was announced by the editor on page one Sunday 9/15 -- used his position at the Trib as entree to the girl's affections and more. She was a high schooler, is presumed to have been far less knowledgeable than he in such matters. Age and station make a big difference here. No law was broken, which seems beside the point.
Even if you call her a tramp, and some may, she was a far less sophisticated tramp or tramp-user than Greene, who in his work relied heavily on a reputation for probity, which was in part probably why she looked him up in the first place, for a school project. He traded on his probity, for that matter, was a very righteous fellow who saw the moral and immoral more clearly than most.
When her case seemed about to become public, Trib and Greene saw its and his position was untenable and decided to cut losses. Both had a lot to lose at the hands of a reading public. Nobody knows Greene's public like Greene. His decision to resign, though probably demanded of him, should be taken at face value. Meanwhile, the story lives, six days later, inflicting on Greene death with a thousand cuts. Don't count him out, however. He knows his audience.
READ ALL ABOUT IT . . . Tiger bites boy, 6, at Christian school assembly in California. School principal snatches kid from jaws. Tiger on scene as reward for selling magazines.
-- All accurate would-be heads for 9/21 story in S-T.
Make-believe closing head: Principal vows no more tigers in auditorium.
YUMPIN' YEMENI . . .-- 9/19/02 -- "Families shocked at arrests," headlines Chi Trib 9/15 about the Lackawanna NY Yemenis arrested as Al Quaida trainees -- fingered by Yemeni-Americans, as it happened, and congrats to them.
This is as opposed to the headlines we are used to in such stories of undercover operatives: "Families say they knew it all along" or "Families suspected something, but said nothing because of the 'family code' of silence."
Let's see. The Unibomber's brother turned him in. Who else? One of the James family tipped the Feds off on Jesse and Frank? Nah. That was alleged but was refuted by Steve Neal in his latest history book minus 12.
BT Way, catch Neal on his Eleanor Roosevelt/ Harry Truman book at Border's Oak Park next Sat. 9/21 at 2 PM. B. Spirit will be there, God willing and if the creeks don't rise, front row center, pen and pad in hand and on lap. Will you?
CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE . . . Bouquets to the S-T headline writer for this on a story (June?) about the Amtrak CEO trying to keep his (badly managed) RR going: "Amtrak chief: He thinks it can, he thinks it can." And brickbats to any editor anywhere who doesn't know where he got it.
On the other hand, another head might be suggested about the perennial money loser Amtrak looking for its periodic bailout: "This little piggy went to the trough, this little piggy went to the trough, this little piggy went to the trough." Nah. Too long.
HEADLINE FOR THE AGES . . . . "Pope Urges Pilgrims to Reject Sin" -- AP, July 25
NEW YORK TIMES, MEET CBS . . . In the midst of covering the Muhammad-related sniper killings, CNN asked NBC to provide some "Law & Order" actors for on-camera comment, but NBC declined, reported Felicity Barringer and Jim Rutenberg in NY Times 10/25. That would be right, because "L&O" is a CBS show, and NBC would have no more access to its actors than CNN. F&J's piece was what we may call an opinion article, about how cable news people try anything to fill the air. Next time, F&J might not be in such a rush to fill their own space.
They might also reconsider phrases such as "omnivorous coverage," meaning incessant. It's the cable editors who are omnivorous, not to mention viewers, and would that F&J were omnivorous or at least hungry as to vocabulary lessons.
What's more, say F&J, cable networks' coverage "has thrust" them "into a . . . debate." I picture a thick-legged Scot heaving one of those long logs at the annual games. Coverage has thrust them, eh? Hmmm.
MILES TO GO BEFORE HE SLEEPS . . . St. Ignatius High School alumnus Jack Miles wins a MacArthur grant of $500G over five years! What's more, Sun-Times says, he's from both South Side (the story says so) and West Side, being from the (West Side) Austin neighborhood (the story also says so, as reported by Debra Pickett, who's from nowhere as far as knowing the city is concerned). Copy editing, anyone, at Sun-Times?
Miles names Kevin Gallagher, teacher at Ignatius in the late 50s & '60, when Miles graduated, as "the first person who ever made me think I was someone out of the ordinary"! That's Rev. Kevin E. Gallagher, SJ, Peru missionary since 70s or earlier.
Chi Trib, on the other hand, in typically weak local reporting, has only the AP story, with Miles identified solely as from LA, where he now resides.
PARK YA CARCASS? . . . Chi Trib asks in its Tempo (features) section 9/27, why national parks are "so white." I ask what is this "so white"? How much white is "so"? Does "so" mean "too"? How much is "too white"? Could Disney get away with "Snow White" today?
The story is about an Afr-Am woman who feels Afr-Ams are missing good things by not visiting parks, so she is drumming up interest among them. Good idea, I say. Being of mostly Irish extraction, I would sure like to be goosed by some Ir-Am to take advantage of the parks, which I rarely patronize.
Ah, but there's more. The story is also about "ethnic history" and offering "experiences meaningful to visitors from varied ethnic backgrounds," according to a 1998 report by the deputy director of the National Park Service, a self-described Afr-Am named Murphy who has a lot of explaining to do as to why he does not self-identify as Ir-Am, I'd say.
The report accompanied with Murphy's starting a "Cultural Diversity Initiative" for the service. Initiating it?
But wait. The article began with "sweeping views of vast vistas and jagged cliffs" at one of the parks. What does that have to do with being meaningful to Afr-Am or Ir-Am "backgrounds"? Whose backgrounds have vast vistas and jagged cliffs anyhow? Damn few of us, I'd say.
It comes down to "programs and facilities [wash rooms?] that represent a variety of views." Views? Of jagged cliffs? From how many angles? I know as an Ir-Am I prefer what I can see from the nearest bar, you know. You know how we are.
Anyhow, it's something our park service is scratching its head about. "It is a struggle for me," says Murphy, who is doing what he can, God bless him. So is a "watchdog group," with its recent "Mosaic in Motion" conference in Atlanta, which featured "dialogue about diversity in the parks," Chi Trib reported. Thank God for that, I say. Anybody who is adding to our nation's long-overdue dialogue about diversity has my vote.
The conference had workshops about exploring the outdoors and a trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which exposed participants to what vistas, sweeping or otherwise, we are not told.