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The [Monday] Papers

To some journalists, spokespeople are the enemy. They serve to shield their bosses from accountability by spinning reporters away from the truth. They are folks to avoid; any reporter worth their salt will develop sources over time who can tell them what's really going on. The best stories don't feature comments from spokespeople at all. The only time a reporter should really rely on a spokesperson is to try to schedule an interview with an official otherwise unreachable. A spokesperson is no substitute for that official, though, and publishing a statement - especially via e-mail - from a flak is tantamount to publishing an unvetted press release and should be disallowed.

To other journalists, spokespeople are saviors. They are (almost) always available to provide a statement, to deny what the reporting otherwise shows is true but let's a reporter "prove" to their boss (and readers/viewers) that they are being fair and presenting "both sides." They offer access - on their own terms, only to the advantage of the officials they serve. They whisper to you on background in an act of apparent charity as part of the fraternity - perhaps even over a beer - though they are highly compensated to do so to shape a reporter's thoughts.

The better a reporter you are, the less you "need" a spokesperson. The lazier (or cozier to power) a reporter you are, the more you need a spokesperson. The world of journalism, particularly mainstream journalism, is filled with far more of the latter than the former. That is a giant disservice to readers/viewers and the truth.

So it was pretty disturbing to see how Chicago journalists reacted over the weekend to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's firing of longtime city spokesperson Bill McCaffrey. McCaffrey has worked as a flak for a variety of city departments including the notoriously dishonest law department, as well as for Chicago Public Schools, for Mayors Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel and, until Friday, Lightfoot.

I had no idea until this weekend that Chicago's press corps held McCaffrey in such high esteem because he's been featured on this site many times over the years for his elision and outright deceit. I've named him Today's Worst Person In Chicago at least twice.

Let's review McCaffrey's appearances here in the Beachwood before moving on to what happened this weekend. Then I'll finish with today's payoff. Yes, in a way, I'm burying the lead. But the purpose is to take a chronological path to your enlightenment by providing you with the background you need. Then I'll throw in a couple related goodies for your consideration of the relationship between PR professionals and professional journalists.

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McCaffery in the Beachwood (I've removed original links to news reports if the link is dead):

August 20, 2013, The [Whittier] Papers:

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked school team was so concerned about the structural integrity of a Pilsen school fieldhouse - and in such a rush to tear it down - they didn't even wait to get a demolition permit, City Hall disclosed Monday," Fran Spielman and Maudlyne Ihejirika "report" for Sun-Times.

Yes, they were so concerned they waited until a Friday night in August to interrupt a dance class taking place in the fieldhouse to begin its demolition.

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"'The order was issued after the Department of Buildings reviewed the architect's/structural engineer's report that deemed the building was unsafe to occupy and a hazard to the community,' [mayoral spokesman Bill] McCaffrey wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times."

Look, if you're gonna let public officials just send in statements via e-mail, you could at least add them to the byline.

If you click through and read the rest, you'll see that McCaffrey was full of shit.

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August 14, 2013, The [Wednesday] Papers:

"A traffic camera company that lost its Baltimore contract earlier this year after acknowledging that its faulty equipment resulted in thousands of erroneous speeding tickets was named Tuesday as the preferred bidder to take over Chicago's scandal-ridden red light camera program," the Tribune reports . . .

"The evaluation committee checked references as part of its thorough review process and contacted Baltimore officials about Xerox, which successfully conducts business with many municipalities," Emanuel spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in an e-mail. "Neither Baltimore nor any other municipality has debarred or declared Xerox ineligible to contract for city business."

Baltimore is just refusing to pay Xerox $2 million because it fucked up so bad.

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September 26, 2013, The [Thursday] Papers:

"A bank that has city business plans to wipe off the books up to $2.2 million in loans for a financially struggling Southwest Side arts center that's favored by some of the state's leading Democratic politicians," the Tribune reports.

"The debt forgiveness by Fifth Third Bank is part of a bailout plan that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 19th Ward Ald. Matthew O'Shea plan to announce Thursday for the Beverly Arts Center, which has teetered on the edge of insolvency for years.

"The plan includes Emanuel granting the center $250,000 from a pot of money created when the city hosted NATO in 2012 and $10 million in private funding for the summit went unused. Millions of those funds have been used across the city for after-school programs and park improvements.

"The announcement would come just a day after an arbitrator determined that the city owed $1 million to Chicago police officers for overtime around the time of the NATO visit. That payment also will come out of the leftover NATO fund, said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city Law Department."

Chicago exceptionalism.

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A) What is the city doing covering a private organization's debt? Where do the rest of us apply?

B) Why didn't the mayor simply return the $10 million in private, unused NATO funds? Spending the money for other purposes - no matter how noble, though also at the whim of one person - is essentially a misappropriation.

C) Why didn't the city put one-tenth of that money toward police overtime, which seems to legitimately fall under the purpose for which it was raised, instead of fighting the cops over their pay?

D) How does the money spent by the city - meaning us - stack up against the promised economic development of hosting NATO? I think we know the answer to that.

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"The city's business relationship with Fifth Third had nothing to do with the deal hammered out to save the arts center, city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said."

Click through to see why that's absurd.

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"Neither a mayoral spokeswoman nor a CPS spokesman would comment immediately on his move."

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July 24, 2014, The [Tuesday] Papers:

"Bill McCaffrey, who until Friday was Mayor Rahm Emanuel's deputy press secretary, is moving down the street to [CPS headquarters] as of Tuesday," the Sun-Times reports.

"McCaffrey could not be reached immediately Monday by phone for comment."

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"Neither a mayoral spokeswoman nor a CPS spokesman would comment immediately on his move."

Again, you can click through for the rest.

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May 26, 2015, The [Tuesday] Papers:

This item includes a tweet from a Chicago reporter complaining that she's "so tired of being lied to," as well as one from another saying this is why reporters need to fact-check anything coming out of CPS.

"Chicago Public Schools somehow forgot about 22 schools, including a selective enrollment high school, in its estimate to hire Aramark to manage school janitors," the Sun-Times reports.

"That mistake - in all, the district underestimated by nearly 3.2 million square feet the amount of space Aramark would have to clean - cost the district an additional $7 million in the controversial contract . . .

"Last month, when the oversight came to light, CPS wouldn't say how many facilities had been skipped, but instead advised filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the details . . .

"Despite being asked repeatedly, [spokesman Bill] McCaffrey refused to say how entire buildings got overlooked. Nor would he say who was at fault or how the district miscounted its space so badly . . .

"CPS regrets this error and is committed to ensuring this mistake cannot be repeated again in the future," McCaffrey said.

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June 11, 2015, The [Friday] Papers:

"Chicago Public Schools admits that it mischaracterized some of its students who dropped out as 'transfers,' thereby inflating its 2014 graduation rates, but the district refuses to consider changing those graduation numbers," Lauren FitzPatrick reports for the Sun-Times . . .

"District spokesman Bill McCaffrey said that CPS has no plans to go back and recalculate the 2014 graduation rate accounting for added dropouts. Nor did he refute any of the numbers. Asked whether any of the students were miscoded on purpose for political purposes, he said, 'Absolutely not.'"

Ah, but is CPS not considering correcting the numbers for political purposes? Because why else?

And then . . .

"McCaffrey said the district became aware of the problem when CPS' inspector general began investigating similar patterns at a few CPS schools. The IG reported that at one school, now known to be Farragut Career Academy High School, 'the miscoding of purported GED dropouts as transfers appears to have been done to reduce the high school's reported dropout rate,' that would have negatively affected its official school rating . . .

"But McCaffrey declined to make any of the 25 principals whose schools were examined by the two media outlets available for an interview, instead proffering leaders from other schools, and a statement from interim CEO Jesse Ruiz: 'CPS takes any report of miscoding very seriously, and has already instituted additional rigorous safeguards and training to ensure the quality of its records,' Ruiz said.

And then . . .

"WBEZ and the BGA attempted to contact several of the principals of the schools whose data we looked at. We tried to reach them through phone calls, e-mails and stops by the schools, but each declined our request for interviews on the subject. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey also refused to make any principals available to talk about this story."

Reporters, in fact, were escorted out of buildings.

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And then . . .

"McCaffrey acknowledged that the district has a problem, but said officials don't plan to go back and adjust the rates because of the 'billion dollar deficit.'"

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February 12, 2016, The [Friday] Papers:

"A Chicago man won a $1 million verdict this week in a lawsuit that accused police of rigging a photo lineup to ensure he would be wrongly identified as an armed robbery suspect," AP reports . . .

"A photo of the police lineup shows Durdin, a light-skinned African-American, sitting on a bench with four other black males, all of whom have dark complexions," the Tribune reports.

"Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said the city is disappointed with the jury's decision.

"'We believe it was the result of erroneous jury instructions, as well as other legal errors, and we intend to file a motion seeking a new trial,' he said in a statement."

By the way, it's not good enough to say, "Well, he was just doing his job." If your job is to be deceitful, get another job. And while it's not always easy, you can be a spokesperson without being dishonest. You can say, "Here's the number to the head of the law department head, they'll explain their thinking to you." And if that gets you fired, so be it. Taxpayers don't pay your salary to be lied to.

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July 19, 2016, The [Wednesday] Papers:

"A Cook County judge on Tuesday ordered the Emanuel administration to turn over e-mail chains sought by the Chicago Tribune related to the multimillion-dollar no-bid Chicago Public Schools contract that led to a federal criminal investigation and the resignation of schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett," the Tribune reports.

"Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled that the city must turn over email chains the Tribune sought in a 2015 Freedom of Information Act request. The Tribune had sought 25 e-mail chains that contained correspondence to or from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and two of- his senior aides between Sept. 1, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2013. The city had withheld six email chains entirely, and it redacted portions of the remaining 19."

A spokesman for the city's law department responded to the ruling in what I can only imagine was a heavily redacted e-mail.

"The City is committed to complying with the Freedom of Information Act and each year it responds without objection to thousands of requests. While in this case we believed that the requested records were correctly withheld or properly redacted, we respect the court's ruling and will comply with it," Bill McCaffrey said in an e-mail.

I can state something here that the city's journalists will agree is 100% objective: The Emanuel administration is not committed to complying with the Freedom of Information Act.

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December 6, 2016, The [Tuesday] Papers:

"After a four-year court battle, a Chicago food truck owner on Monday failed in her effort to overturn what she calls 'burdensome' and 'damaging' rules governing mobile vendors in the city. The judgment likely will have a significant and lasting impact on Chicago's food truck industry, which has struggled to grow, in contrast to other U.S. cities," the Tribune reports . . .

I haven't researched the constitutional issues at play, but it's clear the regulations are overburdensome by design, hardly driven by safety and street congestion issues. To wit:

"City spokesman Bill McCaffrey said it is 'pleased with the ruling, which reaffirms that the ordinance strikes the right balance between the interests of food trucks and those of restaurants.'"

The only interest of restaurants is to keep competition away. By this logic, though, you may as well require one restaurant to stay 200 feet away from another restaurant - and only stay open two hours a day. I find it hard to see how a judge ought to be balancing the interests of food trucks against anything other than the public interest.

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November 27, 2017, The [Monday] Papers:

"A federal judge has ordered the city of Chicago to pay $62,500 for withholding records in a wrongful death lawsuit, marking the eighth time Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has been sanctioned for failing to turn over potential evidence in a police misconduct case," the Tribune reports.

"The city agreed to the amount this month after U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall upheld an earlier ruling that the city acted in 'bad faith' when it ignored a court order and made little effort to provide documents to the lawyer for the family of Divonte Young, 20, who was shot and killed by an officer five years ago . . .

"The city believes that its attorneys acted in good faith; however, we accept the judge's ruling that the city should pay some measure of attorney's fees and costs associated with resolving this discovery dispute," Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in a statement. "In order to avoid further litigation, we reached an agreement with the plaintiff's counsel regarding the amount."

The city believes its attorneys did nothing wrong - for the eighth time.

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Rahm Emanuel is obviously the Worst Person In Chicago on any given day, but once again I'm awarding Today's Worst Person In Chicago to our old friend and repeat winner Bill "Ivanka" McCaffrey for being so goddamn complicit.

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September 24, 2019, The [Tuesday] Papers:

"The city of Chicago has failed to meet at least a third of the deadlines in the first six months of the legally-binding police reform plan being overseen by a federal judge," WBEZ reports . . .

"In a written statement, Chicago law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city is committed to implementing the police reforms 'in a thoughtful and timely manner.'"

Didn't I just read that that's exactly what they aren't doing? I mean, isn't that the point of the story?

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Now let's take a look at what happened over the weekend.

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This morning:

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Shia Kapos in her Illinois Politico Playbook this morning:

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot parted ways with a holdover employee from Rahm Emanuel's administration.

Bill McCaffrey, who has served as spokesman for the city Law Department, "is no longer with the Office of the Corporation Counsel," the mayor's office said, adding, it's a personnel matter and "we will not be commenting further."

McCaffrey didn't return a request for comment but a supporter says he was pushed out after raising an ethical concern.

A source close to the mayor's office says McCaffrey had spread disinformation about a residency issue related to Corporation Council Mark Flessner.

Flessner has a home in the suburbs, but his primary residence is an apartment in the Loop. McCaffrey had told reporters otherwise, which was the last straw for Lightfoot's team.

"Out of everyone in an administration, you have to trust your communications director. If your communications director is spreading disinformation and lies, it's never going to work even if they're popular among reporters," the source told Playbook.

McCaffrey was an at-will employee who had also worked in former Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration. He spent a great deal of his time talking about complicated legal cases with the media. A former colleague of McCaffrey's said he did a good job ingratiating himself to reporters, but not necessarily to fellow employees.

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Mini-thread (and that should be "know," corrected in later tweet):

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Journos sure jumped aggressively to McCaffrey's defense without knowing the whole story. And if his firing, upon more reporting, turns out to be unjustified, so be it. But he's been performing dishonestly for years. But he's always there to e-mail you a statement!

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Finally, for your consideration, because we're talking about the relationship between flaks and journos:

-> Capitol Fax impresario Rich Miller gives an award, among others, each year to the "Best Government Spokesperson."

(This year's award went to John Patterson, a "strategic media advisor" for retiring state Senate President John Cullerton. Cullerton is retiring amidst a swirl of federal investigations of several members of his leadership team, as well as scrutiny of a land deal of his own. Patterson is a former Daily Herald state government editor and Lee Enterprises capitol reporter.)

This is part of the aspect of Miller's work that makes his oft-valuable site too insidery for comfort. (I mean, are his pseudonymous commenters making the nominations on who is the best spokesperson reporters? That would seem to be an ethical issue for them.)

-> The only defender of the media's CTU strike performance? A CTU spokesperson.

And if you read her defense, the CTU and its rhetoric are one and the same with the media's coverage thereof.

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Plus, if you were one of these reporters, would you retweet this or at least feel slightly uncomfortable? Don't get me wrong, Sarah Karp is one of the city's best reporters. But I'm not the only one who, respectfully, thought she might have been a bit more sympathetic to the CTU than the CTU warranted. I get that if CPS lies to you for years, which I'm sure they did (and I'm saying that, not her) you might approach the reporting this way (if that's what she did). But the strike was its own discrete event. And the CTU isn't to be trusted either, regardless of the track record of past city administrations.

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(And this from a CTU organizer, just to drive home how pleased the union was, in the main, with their coverage . . . )

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Beachwood Holiday Gift Guide 2019 In Review
We can no longer guarantee shipping by Christmas Day!

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ChicagoReddit

Found Photo Album: Margaret Slattery (from 1930s) from r/chicago

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ChicagoGram

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ChicagoTube

37 Vintage Photos Of Chicago In 1941.

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BeachBook

What Happened To Our Country?

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Trump's America.

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Billy Bragg's Letter From The UK.

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How The Superrich Took Over The Museum World.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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This is from November but even more apropos now.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Horseshoes and hand grenades.



Permalink

Posted on December 16, 2019


MUSIC - Pandemophenia.
TV - NBC's Bicentennial Special.
POLITICS - We Tortured Some Folks.
SPORTS - Gold Stars For The Red Stars.

BOOKS - The Slave Who Escaped George And Martha Washington.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Flex You.


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