The [Friday] Papers
PROGRAMMING NOTE: There will be no Weekend Desk Report this weekend.
The [Friday] Papers
I'm not sure I've ever seen a Chicago journalist get pummeled (figuratively) as much as Tribune editorial writer and columnist Kristen McQueary has been pummeled since her column praying for a Katrina-like hurricane to strike Chicago was posted Thursday. Deservedly so.
And not just in Chicago - McQueary was trending on Twitter in New Orleans last night.
McQueary's column was wrongheaded - to put it politely - on several levels, most of which have been discussed at length elsewhere.
I would encourage you to also catch up on Twitter if you are behind.
I'll make just a few points, and try not to be repetitive.
* When people are alleged to be racist, they aren't necessarily being accused of being bigots. My guess is that McQueary doesn't have a bigoted bone in her body. But bigotry is the sin of personal prejudice. Racism, no matter how loosely the term is thrown around, is actually an institutional sin - and people make up institutions. When people of influence in those institutions are blind to the outcomes of their polices (or, in this case, policy proscriptions), they are "racist." This is why Rahm Emanuel and his school board (as well as African-American schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett) were rightly accused of racism for the closing of 50 schools that disproportionately and negatively affected African-American students, families and communities.
This, in fact, is the standard used in civil rights law regardless of what Establishment apologizer Eric Zorn thinks. (It's also hardly a redefinition of "racism"; the redefinition has been to use "racism" as a broad description of prejudice and bigotry.)
In this way, then, McQueary's column is racist. My guess is that McQueary is as personally pained as the average person - take that for what it's worth - at the lives lost and families torn apart in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But her blind spot is in not recognizing that the diminishment of those lives is particularly offensive to African Americans who recognize most viscerally that Katrina was a disaster of enormous proportions particularly to African Americans, in the same way that a diminishment of the Holocaust cuts particularly deep to Jews.
In the same way, this explains what critics like myself mean when we characterize the media as (institutionally) racist; when you purposefully reject readers from economic quintiles that are predominantly black, even if you are just operating from a prejudice-free spread sheet, you have behaved in a racist fashion.
More to the point regarding McQueary, something in her worldview - and the worldview of her editors - conjured up that column with (apparently) nary a pause to consider if she was really saying what she was trying to say (although it's quite apparent that, yes, she was!).
(This is the point many local reporters couldn't - and still can't - get when Chicago criminologist Tracy Siska said their lack of attention to the Homan Square scandal was racist; it was, and continues to be, both from an outcome perspective - the victims at Homan are predominantly black - and from an institutional mindset that has predetermined the story isn't worth pursuing. If the victims were predominantly white?)
* Who, if anyone, edited this column? As an editor, you wouldn't want to curtail your writer's true beliefs. But you would want to challenge the arguments. Is this really a clear and useful metaphor? Are the city's financial problems - which could be largely solved tomorrow through a combination of a property tax increase, a financial transaction tax, the use of TIF surpluses and other measures - really more important than the crime and poverty that is killing people every single day right now? Are union contracts really to blame for the reckless spending of Richard M. Daley, endorsed six times by the Tribune, and the risky credit swaps of former school board chairman David Vitale, appointed by the twice-endorsed Rahm Emanuel? Is New Orleans' "free-market" school district, which means it's all charters, really more successful than the traditional model that preceded it? (Hint: No.) Has corruption really been rooted out of City Hall there? Is New Orleans really Heaven on Earth as McQueary describes? Links, please!
* McQueary's column was written after a board room visit from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is currently on a publicity tour. Is it that easy to bowl over McQueary?
* McQueary's patronizing and ignorant response is unacceptable, though another light into the way her mind works.
We all read the piece, Kristen. And you did just diminish the tragedy of thousands of lives lost.
* The Tribune altered the headline of the column and one key sentence after a deluge of complaints rained down upon them.
This is patently deceptive and dishonest, and only makes the situation worse by intensifying and broadening disgust at the (moralizing) Tribune editorial board.
As nicely explained here (I am quoted!), news organizations should be transparent with readers about changes to stories after they are posted. What is the downside?
* On Monday, I wrote this about some of the coverage of the Patrick Kane investigation:
"One way diversity works: Women in the newsroom - and in editing/management positions - increases the likelihood that media deals with these issues in an understanding and enlightened way."
It's 2015. Chicago is roughly one-third Latino, one-third black, and one-third white. This is the Tribune editorial board.
* I used to admire and respect McQueary's work when she was at the Southtown, though I didn't always agree with her views. I have not much liked her work since she joined the Trib edit board. Is she trying to please her bosses, even unconsciously? Has she been socialized into the board the way Warren Breed first described? Is this the "real" McQueary? Has she evolved? I'd love to hear her discuss this.
* Again, check out Twitter for what is probably far more incisive commentary - Twitter demands a clarity in concision that is underrated. And let me know what I've missed or gotten wrong.
6:25 P.M.: UPDATE: The Apology Kristen McQueary Should Have Written.
Previously in Kristen McQueary:
From April 2006:
Kristen McQueary at the Daily Southtown somehow still thinks it was George Ryan's great big heart that tripped him up. She must be a graduate of the Michael Sneed School of Chicago Journalism.
"This was not an elitist who flaunted wealth," McQueary writes. "He was a grandpa from Kankakee with a pudgy wife. The spoils often referenced - corporate jets, premier sports tickets, Jamaican vacations, steak dinners - don't strike me as ostentatious. He was the governor of a major state. Your average state lawmaker is privy to the same recompense, and congressmen, more."
Ryan may not have flaunted his wealth, but he flaunted his power. He delivered wealth to his friends - in multi-million dollar state contracts paid for with our money. McQueary fails to see that the point isn't what Ryan got as much as what he gave (in return for what he got - elected.)
"One of the personal checks shown to jurors as part of the 'spoils' was a $1,000 boost for his daughter," McQueary writes. "One of his kids apparently married a bum who liked to gamble, and so Ryan helped them when he could. What father wouldn't?"
A law-abiding father, that's what father! Ryan "boosted" his daughters in part by shaving money out of Phil Gramm's presidential campaign fund!
"Think of your own life and the people with whom you would surround yourself if elected governor: I'd sure like my best friend from high school, now an attorney, to provide trusted counsel," she continues. "What if she owned a timeshare in Mexico? Would I have to pay her for my room-and-board? It seems a bit absurd."
If you were elected governor, Kristen, your best friend could provide counsel as your private attorney. But would you just turn over the general counsel's job to your pal? And what if your pal, like Ryan's boyhood friend, Dean Bauer, then quashed investigations into, say, a license-for-bribes scheme involving an illegally licensed trucker who killed six kids?
McQueary goes on to make the tired, cynical argument that this is how politics is done in Illinois, and that somehow now the ethical lines have shifted. I wonder how many Chicago journalists realize that in many states and cities, politics is not done this way at all and things still manage to get done. Or that the laws haven't changed at all - find me a federal statute Ryan was charged under that is a recent change of law. Pols have been sent to jail for these types of misdeeds for as long as they have been perpetrating them.
McQueary's column is an important one, though, because it exposes the shocking mindset of many Chicago journalists whose training is so much different than mine. It makes you wonder: If McQueary had been tipped off about some of Ryan's shady deals, would she have thought it not worthy of reporting?
From October 2006:
Speaking of [Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich] Whitney, a good example of the media's mentality comes from Daily Southtown political writer Kristen McQueary. She opened a recent column about Whitney this way: "The goal was this: Find out if he's a whack job."
You know, as opposed to the felon who is our former Republican governor and the felon-to-be who is our current Democratic governor.
"I sat in my car outside the Pilsen restaurant, trying to stifle my elitist perception of credible gubernatorial fundraising - $100-a-plate dinners in chandeliered ballrooms with an open bar and tidy-looking men in patriotic neckties," McQueary continues.
"This was a dumpy restaurant on the Southwest Side with a couple of dudes in dreadlocks swinging through the front door. A disappointing crowd of 40 people sat in a back room that smelled of fried tortillas."
Well, that tells you everything you need to know about our political press corps. They still have more faith in tidy-looking men in patriotic neckties than dudes in dreadlocks.
* From October 2013: Wholly disingenuous - or ignorant - on mandatory minimums. Click through and scroll for it.
* from February 2015:
Now let's take a look at editorial board member Kristen McQueary weighing in with her own bit of weirdness.
"Emanuel is in trouble," McQueary writes.
"Why? Many reasons, but one is this: Voters aren't realistic about the financial tsunami this city faces."
I'm not above calling voters dumb - they put Rahm in office in the first place - but geez!
"If they were, they would not have galvanized around Garcia, who wants to reopen closed schools that for decades failed to properly educate kids. Where was the outrage over the schools' failure year after year to teach kids to read? Chronically underperforming schools in neighborhoods with the greatest population loss, in a school district teetering on bankruptcy, needed to close."
I'll tell you where the outrage was: In your face! Nobody has been more outraged about CPS for decades than its teachers and the parents who send their kids there. Where has the Tribune been?
To close "chronically underperforming" schools in neighborhoods with the greatest population losses is the exact opposite thing to do if your interest is in serving those kids. Maybe ask yourself: Why are these schools chronically underperforming and not others? Why are these neighborhoods losing population and not others? And why is a school district in a city with as much wealth as Chicago teetering - forever, so let's be clear - on the brink of bankruptcy? You can't run a school district successfully in a city that isn't invested in that school district - and this city isn't. If it was, Rahm and his pals would send their kids to public schools just like the rest of us. The fact is, CPS is for "other" kids. And those without a real stake who issue their moral proclamations from the sidelines are the biggest hypocrites of all. Hate to break it to you, but Rahm sends his kids to a school that opposes virtually every policy he has backed for CPS. But maybe the folks at the University of Chicago Lab School are just dumb, like the rest of the masses.
"If voters were concerned about the city's finances, they would understand that Garcia's knee-jerk proposal to hire 1,000 more police officers would not automatically decrease crime."
Voters are concerned about their own finances - because their political leaders obviously are not. That said, I agree that Garcia's policing proposal is nonsense. But then, so was that "authentic" pledge Rahm made four years ago to . . . hire 1,000 more police officers.
"If voters worried about economics, they would not have voted for a candidate who wants an elected school board - essentially putting the Chicago Teachers Union, whose mission is to protect pay and benefits of the adults in the system, in charge of the schools."
First, an elected school board is about accountability. Second, why would an elected school board put the CTU in charge? Rahm and his Super PAC - and his Super Friends like the Rauners and Griffins and Pritzkers and Spielbergs - wouldn't have candidates in the races? If the CTU was that good at electoral politics, the progressive caucus of the city council would have reached double digits by now.
"In fact, Garcia - a nice guy who promises the moon but has no realistic means to pay for it - is the prototype of the very politician teachers scream about who underfunded their pensions for years."
Really? I thought it was Machine politicians who did that. And if you know anything about Garcia, you know that he has spent his career opposing the Machine. That much is true.
"Left-leaning Democrats in Springfield and nice guys on the City Council are the people in charge who passed budgets, year after year, that borrowed against the retirements of government workers."
First, there are very few "left-leaning" Democrats in Springfield. Second, there are Republicans down there too, last time I looked. Republicans have even been governor!
Second, nice guys in the city council? Again, the nice guys have always been in the (extreme) minority. You are blaming people like Garcia for the sins of the Burkes and Mells (and Daleys and Emanuels).
"But none of that mattered Tuesday. Voters showed they care more about potholes, red light cameras and personality."
There we are again: Voters are stupid!
"Don't misread me: Those aren't insignificant concerns. They're exactly why Emanuel got shoved into a runoff and why Garcia might win. Most voters don't want to digest the stark math of the city's financial peril. They are turned off by Emanuel. And they're addicted to fairy dust."
You mean the fairy dust the Tribune sold us for 22 years of Daley?
Speaking of fairy dust, the Trib also endorsed Bruce Rauner.
"As for Emanuel's personality, his arrogance and his tone-deafness, I get it. I didn't vote for Emanuel on Tuesday for many reasons, including his dismissiveness toward the city's most vulnerable neighborhoods."
WHOA! YOU JUST SPENT AN ENTIRE COLUMN BASHING VOTERS FOR DOING WHAT YOU NOW ACKNOWLEDGE YOU DID YOURSELF!
Truly, I am . . . just . . . WTF.
"But against Garcia in a runoff, I might have to reconsider and hold my nose."
So, you voted for Fioretti. So did I.
Here's a tip: Fioretti's positions are virtually the same as Garcia's.
Fioretti's positions are opposite of Emanuel's.
I might have to hold my nose to finish reading this column.
"Because for all of his shortcomings, for all of his overpromise and underdeliver, Emanuel has tried to reform pensions. He has slowed the growth of controversial tax increment financing districts. He has tried to reduce the burden on taxpayers who subsidize city workers' health insurance. He does not support an elected school board. He hasn't caved to immense pressure to hire more police."
Even though he promised to hire more police four years ago when the Trib says he was being real, and he promised to reform TIFs and hasn't come close, and his pension reform solution is to wait on Springfield.
"As smarter people than I often say: You can't lead from a position of bankruptcy."
I've never heard anyone say that in my entire life.
"So will I come around for Emanuel by April? I don't know."
After all that, she still might vote for Chuy!
You know what that tells me? And I say this for the first time: Chuy is going to win.
Because if Kristen McQueary still isn't sure about Rahm after writing a column like this, then all those dumb voters out there certainly aren't going to vote for him.
Beachwood Photo Booth: Ballin Drugs
Your corner pharmacy in the middle of the block.
TrackNotes: Arlington Truce
How the racetrack is like an Easter egg.
The Week In Chicago Rock
Featuring: High on Fire, Lucifer, Alive/Alone, John McCauley, Diana Krall, Steve Dawson and Robbie Fulks, Nicki Minaj, Charlie Organaire, and Nonpoint.
* State Takes No Action Against Condo Attorney Over Threats To News Website.
* Chicago Riverwalk An Obstacle Course For Visually Impaired.
* Straight Outta Chicago.
* Chicago Meetup And I'm In Seventeen.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Like a hurricane.
Posted on August 14, 2015