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The [Friday] Papers

1. I have plenty of thoughts about Barack Obama's speech last night - and on the Democratic convention as a whole - but you know what? I'm just tired. Maybe I'll write something up for Division Street later or post something here over the weekend. But I will say this: I was expecting a monstrosity of a set given all the hoopla about columns and togas and the set was fine. As for the speech, I will say here in general that I liked the beginning and the end, but the middle not so much because it was quite simply filled with Democratic boilerplate, phrases beneath the candidate ("Eight is enough!") and attacks on John McCain representative of the worst of the old politics. (Regurgitating Phil Gramm? In this historic speech? Please.) But that's enough for now, except to say that the TV punditry might have reached an all-time high on the inanity scale.

2. I'm a Roger Ebert fan, but his loyalty to the Sun-Times is often blinding and misplaced. On Thursday he issued an open letter to Jay Mariotti that extended the paper's bizarre public campaign against its former star columnist - a man valued so highly that he was signed to a three-year contract extention surely in seven figures just a few weeks ago. Let's take a look at what Ebert had to say.

"Your timing was exquisite. You signed a new contract, waited until days after the newspaper had paid for your trip to Beijing at great cost, and then resigned with a two-word e-mail: 'I quit'."

Ebert makes it sound as if Mariotti took a paid vacation to Beijing. Instead, he gave the paper exactly what it paid for: Mounds of coverage. What's the problem?


"Newspapers are not dead, Jay, and this paper will not die because you have left. Times are hard in the newspaper business, and for the economy as a whole. Did you only sign on for the luxury cruise?"

Newspapers may not be dead, but they are dying. Are you a rat if you strike out for other opportunities including the Internet? Or is there some principle I'm not aware of requiring you to stick around while your bosses put out a crappy product?


"You were a great shouter in print, that's for sure, stomping your feet when owners, coaches and players didn't agree with you. It was an entertaining show. Good luck getting one of your 1,000-word rants on the air."

Apparently Ebert does not watch ESPN.


"The rest of us are still at work, still putting out the best paper we can."

If this is the best paper you all can put out, you're the ones who should be leaving your jobs.


"[We] believe in our internet site, which you also whacked as you slithered out the door . . . I don't have any complaints about our web site. So far this month my web page has been visited from almost every country on earth, including one visit from the Vatican City."

Ebert believes in the Sun-Times's Internet site so much that he has his own, far superior site. Anyone who defends the Sun-Times's Internet site must be on the Internet for the first time.


"You have left us, Jay, at a time when the newspaper is once again in the hands of people who love newspapers and love producing them. You managed to stay here through the dark days of the thieves Conrad Black and David Radler."

Ah, the dark days.

In 2002, Ebert wrote: "The current owner is publishing a paper I can be proud to work for, and at least his politics are crystal-clear and defend an ideological position that has been taken for ethical, not marketing, reasons. The Tribune, meanwhile, has abandoned a century of conservatism and tiptoed timidly to the center, hoping not to offend anybody."

I'm not sure if there was ever anything ethical about the ideological position of the paper under Black and Radler, but the Sun-Times has, of course, since altered its ideological position for admitted marketing reasons - without a peep from Ebert.

3. "I looked at the newspaper this morning and went, What the hell? It was the most ludicrous thing I've seen in my life," Chicago Newspaper Guild executive director Gerald Minkkinen tells Phil Rosenthal.

"Mariotti called it a 'rather comical assault' . . . You've been selling me out there for years and promoting me, then you turn on me and you expect people to buy it? It's crazy."

Yes. The Sun-Times's editors - and some of their most familiar writers - have managed to make themselves look more comical and childish than Jay Mariotti. Bravo.

4. Speaking of comical and childish, Neil Steinberg couldn't resist either. But what really struck me about Steinberg's column today was his continuing man-crush on Rick Telander.

"Personally, he's a stand-up guy," Steinberg writes. "When I hit a rough patch a while back, and some friends shunned me, Rick sought me out to make sure I was OK."

From Steinberg's new book, Drunkard:

Rick Telander fills the doorway of my office at the paper. He's our star sports columnist, lanky, tall, a hero's tousled hair, still resembling the football player he once was. He asks me how I'm doing.

"I'm hanging in there, I say.

"You still want to do lunch?" We had talked of getting together for a drinking lunch not long before my life took its unplanned detour.

"Sure," I say, perhaps a bit too eagerly. "Why not?"

"You drinking?"


"He considers this for a moment.

"You mind if I do?"

"No, of course not," I say. We look at each other, as if each waiting for the other to say, "What would be the point then?"

"We'll have fun!" I finally bluster, and we set a date. He gets his book out and we settle on December 22, though I doubt it will actually happen.

But it does.

I get to the empty restaurant at the NBC Tower early, so I order a vodka tonic while waiting at the bar. Over a few glasses of wine we talk about my travails - he's full of rumpled sympathy, can't imagine giving it up. "Yeah, it's hard," I say, taking a long sip. He heads to his afternoon work, I go to Rossi's for a shot and a beer.

5. For a guy everyone hated, Mariotti's co-workers are awfully angry that he's left. I guess the unprincipled are willing to tolerate someone's bad behavior as long as he's making them money.

6. Speaking of Drunkard, Sun-Times editor-in-chief Michael Cooke is portrayed in the book as Steinberg's best friend - and a drunk who is disappointed when his pal decides to quit drinking because he won't be any fun anymore.

7. "Chicago reporters covering the Democratic Convention in Denver were stunned to witness WGN-Channel 9's Allison Payne cheering and applauding for speakers Wednesday night while she was seated with the Illinois delegation in the Pepsi Center," Rob Feder reports.

Most reporters just cheer on the inside; others save their cheerleading for the air.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Like a dream.


Posted on August 29, 2008

MUSIC - Holiday Hullabaloo.
POLITICS - Bank Profits Soaring.
SPORTS - Chicago vs. Michigan, 1903.

BOOKS - Dia De Los Muertos Stories.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: West Town Blues.

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