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The [New Year's Week] Papers

When I read Neil Steinberg's column this week slamming Carol Moseley-Braun, I made a note to myself to comment on his "vitriol for black" people. I thought to myself that Steinberg's body of work goes beyond not being afraid to criticize minorities to a deep-seated anger toward - and perhaps even a fear of - black people.

I'm not the only one.

In fact, Moseley-Braun has called on the Sun-Times to fire Steinberg.

First, the column.

"Surprised."

No, even better: "quite surprised."

See, that's why I revere Carol Moseley Braun, in an ironic but very real sense, and will miss her when she returns to the deep obscurity she popped out of to stage her quixotic quest for mayor. Because she can say things like "I was quite surprised" after state Sen. James Meeks dropped out of the mayoral race last week.

You can already see something in Steinberg's tone that goes beyond taking a pol to task. It's almost as if he's been personally hurt by Moseley-Braun. He's also engaging in hyperbole to construct a column out of quite thin tissue.

For example, Moseley-Braun has hardly been in "deep obscurity." (Is there an obscurity deeper than regular obscurity? If so, Steinberg wants to bury her there.)

And is her quest for mayor "quixotic?" Compared to whom - Danny Davis? Miguel del Valle? Gery Chico, who appears to be Steinberg's guy? Isn't he the guy who finished fifth in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to replace Moseley-Braun, who managed to, um, win the seat in the first place?

Moseley Braun, the former senator, former ambassador, and current would-be mayor, was caught off guard when the pastor of the Salem Baptist Church took his ball and went home, while even third-rate pundits who live in the suburbs saw this coming a mile away.

From this column exactly 11, count 'em, 11 weeks ago:

"This is Meeks' way of dropping out of the race," I wrote, on Oct. 11, after Meeks, in the first of a series of jaw-dropping gaffes, vowed that he would keep his day job running a mega-church after he was elected mayor - a premise that might have pleased the flock "but, to non-parishioners, it seems a preacher-slick way of saying, 'I quit.'"

Such obviousness whizzed past the brand of savvy that Moseley Braun brings to the table, and is why part of me wishes she had a snowball's chance in hell of becoming Chicago's next mayor. Never underestimate a politician's entertainment value.

So Steinberg is building his attack column based on the idea that Moseley-Braun is brain-dead for professing surprise that James Meeks would drop out of the race? Please.

In so doing, note how Steinberg calls himself "a third-rate pundit living in the suburbs" to demonstrate that even an idiot like him wasn't surprised. What Steinberg is really trying to signal, in typical passive-aggressive false modesty, is that he's a smart pundit who can't suffer the fools he writes about.

But Meeks's comment about keeping his church hardly seemed like a way of dropping out, as Steinberg contends. By contrast, Eric Zorn predicted Meeks would be forced to drop out of the race after making controversial remarks about minority contracting.

Hell, I wrote in September when Meeks was merely considering jumping into the race that "He's got a huge congregation but he's a reverend with some pretty wacky views; scrutiny would do him in."

Of the three of us - and countless others, I'm sure - Steinberg's reasoning is easily the weakest. Not the smartest boy in the room, Neil.

But it goes beyond that. What drives his level of ire?

What will we get under a Rahm Emanuel administration? Ruthless efficiency punctuated by the occasional burst of colorful ire. How about Gery Chico? Complex policy initiatives seasoned with accusations of back scratching.

It'll be a tough task, just keeping up with all that.

Contrast those with a hypothetical Carol Moseley Braun administration. My job would be a breeze. Imagine the lush displays of ridicule that would blossom in the loamy soil of her rule. I'm half tempted to go into denial, after Emanuel is elected, and write columns tracking, not his advent, but the lurches and stumbles of an imaginary Mayor Moseley Braun.

Steinberg may have just accomplished what some black leaders have failed to do: create a consensus candidate. It's not dissimilar to what Steinberg did in 2006.

I initially considered writing this column as a mock endorsement of Moseley Braun, but held back out of sincere concern that her campaign would miss the joke and issue a press release ballyhooing the fact, the way it did last month after a black weekly published a poll that had her nudging ahead of Rahm.

"CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN BEATS ALL MAYORAL CANDIDATES IN LATEST N'DIGO POLL" her campaign trumpeted, which sounded good until you read the fine print.

"Moseley Braun received 27.4 of the vote, Rahm Emanuel had 22.7 percent," which wouldn't be bad if the opinions being gathered were collected from a representative slice of the city of Chicago. But they weren't. The sample being polled, N'Digo cheerfully explained, was overwhelmingly African-American women, most of them friends of the publisher. In other words, Moseley Braun issued a press release bragging that she bested Rahm Emanuel, barely, among politically active black ladies, nearly a quarter of whom were voting for Emanuel.

See why I'll miss her? That's like me bragging that I beat Rahm Emanuel 3-2 in a poll of those sitting around my dining room table, if you take the joyous yip of the puppy as a vote for me. Would you view that as a mark of certain Steinberg victory, or a sign that two members of my own family wouldn't even vote for me?

I wouldn't trust an N'digo poll as far as I could throw it; indeed, publisher Hermene Hartman isn't exactly an objective journalist - or a journalist at all. But Steinberg appears to have missed the hinkiness of polls in his own shop - and that of his main competitor.

Hartman's response also calls Steinberg's accuracy into question:

"N'DIGO has been conducting polls of the mayoral race. I wanted to determine the way of the Black vote. Black voters are often overlooked and underserved by the pollsters. The last N'DIGO poll, was the one Steinberg cited. It was an online survey conducted in November. African American women weighed in the most and their poll vote was for Carol Moseley Braun. It was fair and square. My personal preference was James Meeks. Steinberg incorrectly says the poll was not representative and that I polled my friends. Not true."

It's clearly not a scientific poll and hardly a journalistic endeavor, but also hardly worthy of Steinberg's level of ridicule.

Alas, after February we won't have Carol Moseley Braun to kick around anymore, and I for one will feel the loss. She represents the egomaniacal muddle that Chicago black leadership has slid into, where calls for imaginary and self-destructive racial solidarity trump minor concerns like reason or history.

I never thought the idea of a "consensus candidate" was advisable, but Steinberg's "analysis" - which isn't a new sentiment for him - reveals some sort of visceral disgust that is hard to place. I mean, shouldn't we be more concerned about Gery Chico's logrolling than the attempts - misguided or cynical as they may be, though undoubtedly well-intended by some - by minority leaders to make a bid for representation after 20 years of seeing most of their neighborhoods and businesses get the shaft?

Which is why Meeks, in the comment that sealed his fate, could dismiss women and Hispanics as not being worthy of the title "minority." Politics is the art of drawing people in, not shutting them out, and candidates such as Meeks fail because they don't grasp that what drives them to their feet, applauding in the pews on Sunday, lands with a thud when delivered to the city in general.

I hope some ambitious University of Chicago sociology graduate student does her masters thesis on the search for a so-called "consensus" candidate among the marginalized black power structure in Chicago; it would make for a fascinating study in magical thinking.

Huh. If the black power structure in Chicago is marginalized, I wonder who did the marginalizing . . .

"It is long past time that we build on the tremendous successes of the great Harold Washington," Meeks said, trying to bow out with a little style and instead reflecting his lack of a grasp on historical fact. Washington was a dynamic guy, lovable and funny, but "tremendous successes"? Point to one. Point to one mild success of the Harold Washington administration, beyond making part of the population feel better about themselves. Other than that, Washington was pretty much stymied by the rebellious City Council - he could barely seat his appointees - for his entire first term, and while that wasn't his fault, it's nothing to engrave on a coin either.

Holy cow! To Steinberg, all Harold Washington did was make "one part of the population feel better about themselves"! Guess which part?!

And if Council Wars wasn't his fault, why is Steinberg holding it against him?

As to Washington's successes as mayor, well, some of us think he was the best Chicago ever had - warts and all.

Steinberg was here at the time; I wasn't. But I read books about Chicago and I do my research; Steinberg ought to try it.

I could have recited Washington's accomplishments from memory, as I'm sure many in Chicago could, but just a tip to Steinberg: It takes less than a second for Google to return all kinds of information to the ignorant. Just for starters, from an NPR story:

"University of Illinois Chicago political scientist Dick Simpson, who also served as an alderman before Washington's election, says the mayor broke from the city's legendary Democratic political machine and brought a different agenda to City Hall, one of a reformer. He created an ethics ordinance, signed a decree to end patronage hiring, and got citizens more involved in devising a city budget and running schools."

And from the Tribune:

"During his time as mayor, Washington had chipped away at the Democratic machine's patronage system by appointing professionals, minorities and women to city positions. He had worked for economic development in neighborhoods rather than just downtown."

The campaign for the February nonpartisan election is like the Warner Brothers cartoon before the main feature. We get Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner flinging anvils at each other, and it's all good fun. Then, after Feb. 22, they vanish and we move on to the real show.

If the cartoonish black candidates would only go away we could get to the real election! Presumably a runoff between Emanuel and Chico.

*

Now, Moseley-Braun wasn't exactly gracious in her response to Steinberg's column:

"Referring to Steinberg's 2005 arrest for domestic abuse, after which he entered rehab for alcoholism, Braun said on Tuesday, 'He's a verified drunk and a wife beater who showed his disdain and disrespect for the African-American community in that article - in several articles. He's got a history of this, and I'm just actually surprised that the Sun-Times would continue to give him a platform.'"

Steinberg's past personal issues have nothing to do with this - or with any criticism of his work except maybe to point out that despite them he still has a missing empathy chip in his brain.

But as for the rest of it, well, she's right.

Sun-Times editor Don Hayner, not exactly the brightest bulb in the journalistic firmament, is standing by Steinberg, saying that "Neil Steinberg expresses his opinion, as do all of our columnists. We stand by their right to express those opinions as part of the larger discussion of the future of our city."

True. But do Sun-Times columnists have the right to get paid handsomely when they consistently write offensive columns or get their facts wrong or show a professed ignorance of the city and culture around them?

My continual criticism of Steinberg isn't personal, despite what he thinks. I have had no personal issue with him. He's just so wrong and so misguided so often that it's hard to understand how any newspaper can justify keeping him on - especially when he and many of his colleagues, including Hayner, so often criticize "the Internet" and "bloggers" for being unhinged and without loyalty to journalistic standards.

And where are his editors? Doesn't anybody read his work before it goes public? Because if they do, they are just as guilty of committing journalistic malpractice.

*

ADDITION 10:06 A.M.: From CBS2Chicago:

Steinberg defended Monday's column as honest, accurate, fair and funny.

"I think it's the worst sort of racism to think that certain groups can't be criticized because they're going to collapse into a sobbing heap," he said.

Ahem. So by "certain groups" does Steinberg mean black people? No one is suggesting that black political and civic leaders can't be criticized. Many of us do it every day - be it Todd Stroger or Roland Burris. I do it a lot. As far as I can tell, though, nobody senses any sort of undercurrent of racial rage in me. Perhaps that's because I don't constantly complain - as Steinberg does - about how "everything has to be racial," as though it's such an inconvenience to him to forced to face both historical and contemporary realities.

It's one thing to criticize pols who happen to be black. It's another thing to complain about "them."

And Steinberg's childish retort about collapsing into a sobbing heap shows once again his lack of empathy and understanding. Plus, his column wasn't funny.

*

ALSO:

"Watching the Chicago media pack take chunks out of Roland Burris this week, and after taking a few bites out of the lying weasel myself, I couldn't help but wonder: When it comes to covering corruption, is there a media double standard, one for weak black politicians and another for powerful white guys?" John Kass once wrote.

The answer is Yes.

*

AND:

Mary Mitchell vs. Steinberg, June 28, 2007:

When a white male colleague calls his black female co-worker a racist, what should she do?

Walk down the hall and punch him in the nose?

Of course not. I'd be fired for workplace violence.

But that was exactly what I felt like doing Wednesday when I read Neil Steinberg's item in which he attacked me (without mentioning my name) for my perspective on the media coverage of Bobby Cutts Jr., the black man who is charged with killing his white pregnant girlfriend in Canton, Ohio.

In my column, I noted that the media pounded the message home that Cutts, the father of three children by three women and carrying on an affair with the victim, Jessie Marie Davis, is a lowlife.

Yet, we tiptoed around the fact that Christopher Vaughn, the white man now charged with killing his wife and three children, was most likely the killer.

Indeed, the Vaughn case was shrouded in mystery, while the Cutts case was so wide open, we knew his personal business almost immediately.

DEBATE STILL GOING ON 17 YRS. LATER

The difference in how these similarly heinous crimes was framed in the media had to do with race, I argued.

And had Cutts murdered a pregnant black woman, we wouldn't know what she looked like.

In fact, the last time a kidnapped black woman made headlines or the cable news channels (she later turned up dead), her family had to browbeat and shame the cable stations into carrying the story.

As for the Vaughn family - the media kept harping on the fact that they were the "perfect" family. Now we hear that they weren't so perfect after all.

Call it what you will, the media are often biased when it comes to covering these issues. Don't believe it? Show up at a meeting at the National Association of Black Journalists, Chicago chapter. No matter what the topic, the discussion will end on this subject.

This debate over media bias was going on when I arrived in the newsroom 17 years ago, and it is still going on today.

But Neil Steinberg has become a self-appointed critic of my views on race.

"[T]o claim that Cutts was portrayed in a negative fashion 'because he is black' while Vaughn was displayed positively 'because he is white' is to a) cry wolf and b) succumb to an inverse kind of racism. . . ," Steinberg wrote.

First of all, the language in quotes is Steinberg's, not mine.

For the record, this is what I wrote:

"Although just about everyone I spoke with thought Vaughn must have killed his family, he was given the respect due any grieving father by the media. The Vaughns were portrayed as the perfect suburban family, with Christopher Vaughn, a forensic adviser, being described as 'low-key.'

"For something so sinister to happen, there had to be a lot more negativity going on with this guy than what was being reported. But Vaughn was given the benefit of the doubt in the media, which increases his chances of getting a fair trial.

"Cutts was not.

"The difference in these sensational crimes isn't character. It's race."

3RD EXPLANATION NOT MENTIONED

Steinberg has the right to disagree with me. In fact, he could have come down the hall, pulled up a chair, and we could have talked about our different perspectives.

Steinberg didn't do that. He used his platform to label me a racist. That shouldn't surprise me, since my critics at SCORE radio trashed me, as well, on Tuesday afternoon, prompting a black listener and reader to call me, enraged.

I'm comforted by the fact that a lot of black people knew where I was coming from. And since white people haven't walked a step in our shoes, they don't get to tell us what our views on race ought to be, anyway.

Few blacks and whites agree on this subject. And frankly, quiet as kept, most black people couldn't care less about what white people have to say when it comes to race.

Steinberg - who can wax poetic about one black woman he doesn't know in the same column that he takes a cheap shot at one he does - doesn't have the right to label me a racist even when he wraps the offensive label in clever wit.

There's a third explanation that Steinberg didn't mention about why Cutts was portrayed in a negative fashion and Vaughn wasn't.

Frankly, most often, the people who make the decision about how blacks are characterized in the media look more like Steinberg than they do me.

Programming Note:
We'll continue slouching toward the New Year with a sporadic Beachwood until returning in full on January 3rd. Here's what we've got so far.

WEDNESDAY:
* 2010 in Review: Was Kanye West The Best?

* I Want My Google TV

* Fantasy Fix: Carlos Pena Will Hit More HRs Than Adam Dunn And Other Predictions For 2011

* The Schindler Elevators At Barnes & Noble

TUESDAY:
* The Casino Meat Is A-Cookin'

MONDAY:
* In Action! Elvis Costello at the Chicago Theatre

* Chicagoetry: I Wanna Paint Really Cool Murals, Man

* SportsMonday: Lovie's Secret Sauce

-

The Beachwood Tip Line: Spill.



Permalink

Posted on December 29, 2010


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Vizio Settles Spying Complaints.
POLITICS - WikiLeaks Reveals Staggering Breadth Of CIA Hacking.
SPORTS - Beachwood Sports Radio: Butt Fumbles.

BOOKS - Bannon, The Best And The Brightest.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Descending Darkly.


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