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The [Monday] Papers

"When word filtered out that a part-time University of Wisconsin lecturer believes that the U.S. government staged the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, responses largely fell along two lines: A) Fire him! B) What, is he nuts?," the Tribune says today in an editorial titled "For Love Of A Conspiracy."

"Looks like the better response would be to . . . patiently . . . explain exactly why he is wrong. Because there are signs that some people suspect he's right."

The Tribune then cites a recent poll showing that 36 percent of respondents thought it very likely or somewhat likely that "people in the federal government either assisted in the Sept. 11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

The problem with the conspiracy theorists is that they find a need to look past what's staring all of us in the face: Reams of reporting clearly shows that the Bush Administration fabricated an argument to take us to war in Iraq. If you don't believe this by now - no matter what your political affiliation - you simply aren't paying attention.

Yet, according to a poll last month at least equally as disturbing as the one cited by the Tribune this morning, 50 percent of Americans said they believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when America invaded the country. Not only that, but that number is a substantial increase from the 36 percent who said so in February 2005.

Also against all evidence, 64 percent still believe that Saddam Hussein had strong links to al-Qaeda.

I don't endorse the conspiracy theories, but I find it easier to believe that a fair number of folks in that poll are merely allowing for the possibility that something other than incompetence explains how the president could have blown off a briefing five years ago this month about Osama bin Laden's determination to strike the United States amidst intelligence chatter that something was up. Or perhaps those respondents are grappling with why the administration was so uncooperative with the 9/11 commission.

The poll about WMDs and Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, is about something in which the facts are safely in hand. Maybe the Tribune should . . . patiently . . . explain exactly why they are wrong - without wrapping the facts within a larger justification for the war borne out of an inability to admit being wrong. But then, it's easier to make fun of other conspiracy theorists instead of acknowleding that you were once wrapped up in a different kind of conspiracy yourself.

A Different Kind of Conspiracy
The columnists featured on the Sun-Times's commentary pages on Sunday: Monroe Anderson, Betsy Hart, Robert Novak, Mark Steyn, Bill O'Reilly, and George Will. I don't read Monroe Anderson, but I'm guessing he's the token liberal. If not, it's George Will.

Project Team
Just getting over the Sun-Times's six-part series on Chicago's changing kitchens? Today the paper starts a five-part Fall Fashion Preview. Good news in Part One: Fall Silhouettes Are Modern, Feminine, Wearer-Friendly!

I'll do some heavy lifting so you don't have to. Here's what the paper says is Out. And they oughta know.

* Ponchos
* Boxy jackets
* Shrugs
* Bling
* Super-low rise pants
* Skimpy tank tops and T's worn alone
* Big-beaded necklaces
* Over-embellished jeans

[Note From The Beachwood Reporter Fashion Affairs Desk: Ponchos we're never in, and bling will never be out.]

County Clout
Cook County Board president candidate Todd Stroger isn't concerned that job candidates from his ward seem to get an unfair advantage in securing county jobs. After all, he's one of them.

Mascot Madness
Free Mattress Man!

Perfect for Framing
The Tribune headline on an air and water show story over the weekend - "Haze Can't Cloud The Issue: Fans Still Enjoy Show/Altitudes Lower; Attitudes Are Not" - brought back memories.

When I was a reporting resident at the Tribune in 1993, I was sent to cover the air and water show one weekend day. Everyone I spoke to - including many air show veterans - were disappointed with the show that year. To a person. There were long waits between planes and generally unspectacular feats on display. Let's face it: Sometimes a show is going to be a dud.

But editors have expectations and demands quite divorced from reality. Reporters aren't allowed to write stories about how the air and water show really sucked this year, or how the parade they were sent to was silly, or that, say, the Taste of Chicago was particularly hideous this year. You never get to read those stories in the newspaper, even if they are true.

So when I saw that hazy skies kept planes to a lower altitude and that marred the show, I wondered if attitudes really remained high, as the Tribune felt compelled to report. After all, haze can't cloud the issue, which is that editors were depending on filling a hole with a feel-good story about how great a Chicago tradition such as the air and water show is year-in and year-out.

Now, this isn't the most important issue in journalism, but in a way it is, because it demonstrates on a simple level the way stories are framed, pre-set in their narratives by editors and complicit reporters. When it's an air and water show, the consequences are negligible. But the same principle is applied to political and public policy stories - even stories about going to war - and that's where the consequences really matter. If skies are hazy and attitudes low, well, why not just say so?

And I have a feeling readers would love a story about how awful a parade was. The truth is always so much more compelling than the fabrication.

Hot Air Show
So what did I write back in 1993? A dismayed editor who had been unwilling to discuss my planned approach truncated what I wrote into this - without my knowledge. At least some of the flavor was retained, though somewhat nonsensically. As it appeared in the Tribune:

"Beach conditions at 1 p.m. Saturday: 75 degrees air temperature, 66 degrees water temperature, a 3- to 4-foot surf and thousands and thousands of people lining Lake Michigan from Ohio Street to North Avenue.

"It was a day called "severe clear" by the U.S. Air Force, in town to show off the Thunderbirds precision flight squad at the 35th annual Chicago Park District Air & Water Show. The show continues Sunday.

"But even a picture-perfect day couldn't please everyone - particularly those who had to work while others enjoyed the show.

"'Who do you work for, the federal government?' a man said upon hearing that the show's programs cost $3. Little did the unhappy consumer know that it was the 24th birthday of Jeremy Hubbard, the vendor on the receiving end of consumer dismay.

"That made for two unhappy campers.

"'I hate crowds,' said Mari Hann, also a program vendor, upping the unhappiness total to at least three where a tunnel under Lake Shore Drive emptied out at Oak Street Beach.

"'I couldn't see relaxing and trying to enjoy yourself in a crowd like this,' said Hann, who, like Hubbard, is from Cleveland. 'Too many bikes, too many Roller Blades. I'm going to get wiped out soon on a corner like this.'

"The Park District put about 40 lifeguards on duty at Oak Street Beach and another 50 at North Avenue Beach to handle the crowd."

Turkey Story
Later that year, I was sent to O'Hare on a Sunday to write the annual story about how crowded the airport was due to Thanksgiving travelers returning home. I wandered the concourses for hours and you know what? It was a ghost town. Now, other reporters would probably have found two people to quote saying it was busy and returned to the newsroom to file their story. I thought the fact that the airport was practically empty was the story. Editors reluctantly went along. This is what appeared in the paper:

"Bob Smart stood near the Northwest Airlines baggage claim at O'Hare International Airport Sunday around dinner time, took a good look around, and asked a salient yet simple question:

"'Where is everybody?'

Mad, scampering, grumpy crowds battered by holiday travel were nowhere to be seen-at least not around 6 p.m., and not among a random survey of Northwest, American and United passengers.

"'I'm surprised,' said Smart, who had just arrived from Minneapolis. 'I expected to see a lot more people.'

"It looked like business as usual at O'Hare Sunday, despite the return of stuffed Thanksgiving travelers to the Chicago area.

"While the brief strike by American Airlines flight attendants and a threatened slowdown by employees at United may have spooked travelers into canceling or changing plans, nothing resembling mayhem broke out over the holiday weekend, passengers and airport officials said.

"'The problems that we've had have been weather-related,' said American spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan.

"Snow in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day delayed some flights, and on Sunday the East Coast was blanketed, causing delays of up to two hours in the early afternoon, Fagan said.

"But some annual travelers said they found this year to be smoother than past Thanksgivings.

"'There was so much talk about how bad it was going to be, I think it might have scared some people off,' said Amber Stonehouse of Naperville. Stonehouse spent her holiday in Los Angeles, a trip she makes five or six times a year.

"Official numbers won't be ready for about a week, but there is no indication this was a record-setting weekend at O`Hare, said Lisa Howard, spokeswoman for the city aviation department."

Counter Programming
* Right-wing New York Times.

* "Republicans for Duckworth."

* "[Andrew] Young was apparently sober and trying to say something that anyone familiar with urban commerce knows to be quite true. He dug his grave with the way he said it," Clarence Page writes.

"There's nothing new about the 'black tax' that residents of economically abandoned urban neighborhoods have had to pay for goods and services in recent decades. It is part of the economic dynamic of old urban neighborhoods that waves of immigrants, including black immigrants from the South, have operated mom-and-pop stores, become successful, and eventually move on to better neighborhoods."

* Chicago-opoly.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Priceless.


Posted on August 21, 2006

MUSIC - Who's Next In Chicago Rap.
TV - Tribune-Nexstar Deal Is Bad News.
POLITICS - Big Soda Hates You.
SPORTS - Harold vs. the Haters.

BOOKS - Wright Brothers, Wrong Story!

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Go Ahead, Eat Raw Cookie Dough!

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