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The [Sunday] Papers

The Dan Webb Kool-Aid appears to be wearing off. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown backtracked on Sunday from his awe at Webb's closing arguments and is now saying he thinks George Ryan will be convicted.

"It took the final round of arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins to clear the fog that had descended over my brain during Dan Webb's summation of the Ryan defense," Brown wrote.

In one of the most significant trials in state history our press corps let a slick white-collar defense lawyer fog their brains? Because it wasn't just Brown.

"[C]ollins stepped up and reminded me why I got so worked up about Ryan in the first place, how he subverted our state government for the sake of his buddies while playing the rest of us for suckers. I don't think a jury is going to let him get away with it," Brown continued.

"If that makes it sound like I'm a weather vane blowing in the [wind], well, that's a little how it felt in U.S. Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's courtroom last week."

After a seven-year investigation and a six-month trial, Brown & Co. needed to be reminded about the evidence lest they sway in the wind of Dan Webb's hot air?

"As I watched Collins' closing argument, I considered using a metaphor of the former high school basketball guard rallying his team in the fourth quarter. Then I decided it wasn't a rally at all because the prosecution team was never really behind," Brown continued.

"I'd just been sitting in a seat where I couldn't see the scoreboard and got swept up in the oohing and aahing as Webb's team was making three-pointers and slam dunks while Collins et al were methodically grinding it out in the style of his old coach Bill Geist's Benet Academy teams."

The Chicago Tribune's John Kass has similarly shifted, as did the tone of the coverage in general between Webb's closing and Collins's closing.

But unlike the "performance review" theater critic Chris Jones wrote for Page 1 of the Tribune after Webb's closing, Collins' performance the following day wasn't "reviewed" and the news story about it fell to the Metro section.

Tribune blogger/columnist Eric Zorn disagrees with me, but I think the media's performance was shoddy, and that Webb's performance as a lawyer could stand for more scrutiny from reporters not swayed by his showmanship but interested in the substance of his show.

Says Zorn: "I was reminded again of how hard it is for reporters to be thorough and fair as they attempt to distill five or six hours of testimony or rhetoric into something that the reader can finish in three minutes."

Somehow I don't feel sorry for how tough reporters have it. Certainly their job isn't as difficult as the job jurors do. A reporter is supposed to be trained and experienced in just such a distillation; an editor is supposed to help. A newspaper's infrastructure is supposed to create enough room to make it happen. With some imagination, readers could really be served.

Instead, I'm not sure readers have been presented with a clear picture at this point of the charges against Ryan (and nearly forgotten co-defendant Larry Warner) and the main prosecution and defense arguments. A chart showing just that, for example, would have been nice.

The Tribune, for example, devoted at least a page, if I remember correctly, to a chart of its movie critics' Oscar picks. Doesn't our most recent sitting governor standing trial for practicing what both sides can fairly call politics-as-usual in this state deserve at least as much?

Zorn also says in rebuttal to my argument that the press didn't fact-check Webb's closing that it is impossible for reporters to offer "a comprehensive 'truth-squad' sort of analysis on all the key evidence in a trial of this length."

I don't think it's impossible at all. No one is asking for "comprehensive" analysis of "all" the evidence, just the key points. Give me the top five, or even the top three. Reporters do it all the time. If a newspaper can't handle this sort of task, what is the point of the newspaper's existence? This is its duty to readers/citizens.

But in the coverage of the Ryan trial, Chicago's newspapers have failed.

Webb Poll
Still wondering, Mr. Webb: If you were still the U.S. Attorney, would you have pursued the investigation of George Ryan, and would you have filed charges?

Earnings Report
Parade magazine's annual "What People Earn" survey appeared among the Tribune's inserts on Sunday. Perhaps the Tribune should follow suit and publish the salaries of all its employees.

Think there'd be much reader interest in that?

Q is for Quagmire
"Quadraboobs? Coconut Shells? Banish Them All!"

Ruminating Roundup
Carol Marin pleads: "Still Time To Stop One Unqualified Judge"

Carol Slezak thinks: "Baker Badgering Just 'Roid-iculous'"

But Rick Morrissey says: "Straight Talk From Baker Sorely Missed"

Zay Smith passes along Jerry Falwell's good news: "A GRACIOUS CORRECTION OF THE JERUSALEM POST: Earlier today, reports began circulating across the globe that I recently stated that Jews can go to heaven without being converted to Jesus Christ. This is categorically untrue."

And Paige Wiser wonders: "Why all the hate for smoking? There are so many ways to die that it seems random to just focus on nicotine."

Your Views: Ryan, Webb & the Media
Weigh in with your views in our Beachwood forums.

Don't forget our Tip Line: Kool-Aid to best of the day.



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Posted on March 12, 2006


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Trailer: Swing District.
SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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