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The [Sunday] Papers

[Editor's Note: The Monday Papers will appear later today.]

[UPDATE 2:40 p.m.: Er, no it won't. I've been overrun today by business responsibilities here at Beachwood HQ. I'll combine what was already shaping up to be a highly amusing Monday Papers column with tomorrow's Tuesday Papers column. In other words, look for the first-ever (and hopefully last) The [Monday & Tuesday] Papers in the morning. Meanwhile, read this again. It's good.]


It's easy to get away with not talking to the press in Chicago, particularly when it comes to something important like, oh, safeguarding our civic discourse and democracy.

Last week's secret appointment of Anne Burke to the Illinois Supreme Court is just the latest example of how easy it is to dodge an often weak and unfocused media.

It's true that both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times produced fine stories that explored the politics behind judicial appointments and some historical particulars behind Anne Burke's career as a judge.

But were the main players in this saga really held to account? What sayeth Anne Burke; her husband and political operator Ald. Ed Burke; retiring state supreme court justice Mary Ann McMorrow; the rest of the supreme court justices who agreed on Burke; and the Democratic Party officials who have also shepherded Anne Burke's career? How do they explain themselves?

The answer: They don't have to. And that's the media's fault.

McMorrow announced her bigfoot maneuver of retiring and handing her job to Burke in a statement. McMorrow seems to have spoken--on the phone--to just three reporters: One from the Associated Press who didn't appear to ask about anything controversial; her caddy at the Sun-Times, Michael Sneed; and Sun-Times political columnist Carol Marin.

Marin asked McMorrow if the deal was political.

"'It appears that way,' McMorrow conceded when she took my call in her chambers Thursday," Marin wrote. "'I can understand the skepticism . . . but that's really not true.'"

"McMorrow said she submitted the names of four or five 'highly respected' women, all appellate justices, and her colleagues unanimously picked Burke.

"Could she say who the other candidates were? No, she told me, it was an internal process."

There is no evidence that any reporter has asked any of the other justices, who approved the choice of Burke, about what happened behind the scenes.

Reporters may assume that they won't get answers, but it is their job to ask the questions. And how often are we surprised at just what we learn when we do ask? Besides that, writing that Mary Ann McMorrow and her colleagues refuse to explain how they chose the next state supreme court judge makes for a terrific story in itself.

Lost in the coverage as well is another element of McMorrow's manipulation. "Since McMorrow is retiring after the state primary has taken place, an election for her seat won't take place until 2008," the Tribune wrote in a sidebar to its April 6th story. "At the next election cycle the vacant seat is open to other candidates."

In other words, McMorrow waited until after the primary so she could cheat the system and install her friend on the high court.

And for all the praise that Burke has gotten in the coverage--it's not her, it's the process, the media constantly assures--her behavior as been as untoward.

Burke appears to have spoken to to three people as well: her pal Sneed, Marin, and a Tribune reporter.

Marin wrote: "Burke, who spoke to me by phone from her chambers that same day, pointed out that plenty of political people 'have turned out to be pretty good.'"

That sounds like an admission that her appointment was political--and a defense of such at that.

In the April 6 Tribune story, Burke said: "I was also elected in 1996, don't forget, so the people voted for me as well. I think my own career as a justice and the other things that I've done, I don't think anybody can say I've been biased or unfair. I feel I've been honest both in my personal life and on the court . . . I can't imagine anybody saying that at this late stage."

Yes, I can't imagine.

And then there's Burke's husband, Ed, the powerful chairman of the City Council's finance committee and longtime alderman from the 14th Ward.

On Saturday, Burke managed to get on the front page of the Tribune with what appears to be a cockamamie conspiracy plot that has Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez manipulating the vote in Chicago. (Irony comment will come later.)

Burke got a good ride on the story from the Sun-Times as well, and to be fair, the Tribune says that newspapers including The Miami Herald and Investors Business Daily, as well as the blogosphere, have raised questions about possible connections between Chavez and Sequoia Voting Systems.

Still, it's a convenient distraction for Ald. Burke, who chairs the Democratic Party's judicial slate-making subcomittee, and whose "formidable clout helped orchestrate a clear path for his wife to win a seat on the Appellate Court unopposed" to begin her career as a judge, as the Sun-Times reports.

But what about his wife's latest promotion?

"On Friday, Ed Burke was one proud husband," the Sun-Times's Fran Spielman gushed. "My wife is a wonderful person, an outstanding lawyer and an experienced judge," Burke told the paper, which apparently doesn't know that just because an official tells you something with no value, you don't have to print it.

Spielman goes on to state: "He cut off the discussion before anyone could question the circumstances surrounding his wife's selection. But there is no doubt he has played a role in his wife's judicial ascent."

That's in the ninth paragraph.

Perhaps the way to handle a story like that is like this:

"Ed Burke, the clouty chairman of the city council finance committee who has collected a taxpayer salary as 14th Ward alderman since 1969, refused to answer questions Friday about his role in his wife's judicial career.

"Burke, who was happy to discuss at length what some describe as a crackpot theory--one that cynics might suggest is timed to draw attention away from the details of his wife's ascension to the state supreme court--cut off questioning when the topic changed from the alleged scheme of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to manipulate the vote in Chicago to an alleged scheme to manipulate the naming of his wife to the Illinois Supreme Court."

(Burke apparently sees no irony in calling the twice-democratically elected Chavez a dictator with the potential to "subvert the electoral process in the United States of America.")

How did Burke cut off the discussion? Was there a scene? Did he storm off? What were his exact words? Because that's the story of the day as far as the Burkes are concerned.

Pols think they are unaccountable only when they are not held to account. And it's obvious in Chicago (and Illinois) that pols think they are unaccountable.

Don't get me wrong. The press coverage about Anne Burke's appointment has been mostly well done. Except for the part about pressing the actual subjects of the story.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Hugo Chavez uses it, you should too.



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Posted on April 10, 2006


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
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SPORTS - All Is Not Forgiven, Bears.

BOOKS - Turning Points Of The Civil War.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Baxter's IV Bag Shortages.


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