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The [Thursday] Papers

By Steve Rhodes

"Whoa!" the Tribune editorial board exclaims today. "What did Mayor Richard Daley just do?"

That depends on who and how you read.

"Mayor Daley on Wednesday removed the biggest hurdle to Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics - financial guarantees - but created a political headache in the process," the Sun-Times reports.

Forgive me if I think this sounds a bit congratulatory toward the mayor - and dismissive of what the rest of the world thinks he just did, which is to have completed squaring the circle of lies he's been telling about taxpayers not being on the hook for the two-week soiree he and his pals want to throw.

(Even the headline to the online version of this story says "Daley To Put Taxpayers On Hook For Olympic Financial Losses," which is a tad more than just a "political headache." But hey, great job removing the biggest hurdle - no pun intended, I'm sure! Because that would be way too obvious and lame!)

"Daley said he will sign a host city contract with the International Olympic Committee giving a blanket guarantee that the city will cover any financial losses if Chicago wins the Summer 2016 Games - even as some aldermen grumbled Daley is exceeding his authority."

A blanket guarantee!

One might have opened this story questioning the mayor's credibility, or comparing this development to previous statements by the mayor that mark him as a lair, or simply: "Ben Joravsky was right."

But no. Instead, we're treated to the patronizing description of aldermen grumbling.

"Mayoral press secretary Jacqueline Heard stressed that Chicago 2016 has come up with a series of guarantees and private funding formulas for the proposed $4.8 million Olympic plan, so taxpayers won't wind up footing the bill," we are then assured.

Well, as long as that's what Jackie Heard is stressing.

But didn't I just read that Daley is "giving a blanket guarantee that the city will cover any financial losses"?

That was just two paragraphs ago!

"It's all a part of a $2.5 billion safety net of private and public money that already includes a $400 million rainy-day fund . . . "

"Safety net" is such a nice way of putting it. But what does that mean? The bills are going to get paid no matter what. And if the safety net already includes public money, then who is being protected and where's the net?

And did the Sun-Times just confirm that the city's $400 million rainy-day fund is being kept in reserve to protect against potential Olympic losses seven years from now, instead of using it today when we're actually facing the worst economic crisis in decades?

A couple of grumbling aldermen are tacked onto the end of the story in the classic way that reporters marginalize dissent. "Oh, and here are a couple of people on 'the other side'."

Journalists from traditional media often kvetch about saving "objective" journalism and the truth is I couldn't agree more. I just happen to find it in different places than they do.

For example, is the report I just cited objective "reporting" or objective stenography? And is it really more objective than the Sun-Times editorial which states that "It's bad enough that the mayor reneged on a promise to taxpayers. What's more stunning is that Daley agreed to sign a financial guarantee of such magnitude without any sort of hearings before the City Council"?

It wouldn't take much to tweak that into a news report that went something like this:

"Reneging on a promise repeatedly made to taxpayers, Mayor Richard Daley on Wednesday agreed to a blanket guarantee of public money to cover any losses should the Olympics come here in 2016 - and he did so without the approval of the city council, which is a branch of government equally charged with the executive branch with deciding how taxpayer money gets spent."

Is there anything there that isn't objectively true?

Meanwhile, just because Jackie Heard says something doesn't mean you have to publish it without questioning her premise.

Again, I have to turn to an editorial for enlightment, in this case back to the one in the Tribune.

"Well, hold on a minute," the paper says in response to Heard's claim. "If the Olympics lose money, the IOC wants somebody to pick up the cost. So if the Games are a bust and the losses blow through the public and private guaranteees, the Chicago 2016 committee will pay the rest of the tab?

"How? By taking up a collection among its members?"

We could only hope.

But the city is signing the guarantee, not Chicago 2016.

On the Tribune's front page, we're told in the opening that "Mayor Daley made an about face Wednesday and said the City of Chicago would sign a contract agreeing to take full financial responsibility for the Games."

That means us.

"[T]he agreement could leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars or even more, a scenario Chicago's bid team acknowledges but insists is far-fetched."

As far-fetched as a mayor bulldozing an airport in the middle of the night or being in the dark about his nephew's multi-million dollar deal with the city's pension funds?

Or only as far-fetched as an Olympics that loses money like just about every one has?

And about that "about face" . . . um, it's only an about face if you haven't been paying attention.

The Trib describes Daley's move as a "change of heart" that "jeopardizes his long-standing pledge to limit potential taxpayer exposure."

First, the pledge wasn't to "limit" exposure, it was to put no public money on the table at all. Check your own archives.

Second, he broke that pledge long ago - as we can all see a mere five paragraphs later:

"[A]lready there is some public-sector participation planned. The Chicago Park District would kick in $15 million toward an aquatics center, tax-increment financing would help pay for the infrastructure around the Olympic Village, and a projected $60 million in ticket taxes would help pay for city services."

And that's just for starters.

So the pledge isn't just in jeopardy. It's broken.

Later in the Trib story, Heard makes the extraordinary claim that Daley's move won't put taxpayers further at risk!

"The mayor would not even think about going back to the taxpayers to finance the Olympics," Heard said.

You've got a long line of corrections to ask for, then, Jackie. I even smell a libel suit!

Unless "going back to" means asking taxpayers for their approval. She'd be right, then, because the mayor would never think about doing that.

But the facts clearly show the mayor has already stuck his hands in our pockets.

"Any shortcomings will fall on the shoulders of taxpayers, and that's the end of the story," Olympic historian Kevin Wamsley told the Tribune.

You would think. But this is Chicago.

Time Warp
"I've been a backer of the Chicago 2016 Olympics bid. But it's getting hard to remain one. It's time for Mr. Daley to disclose everything, answer all the questions, and for the City Council to do its job," Greg Hinz writes in a post titled "Time For Daley To Come Clean On 2016 Tab."

Isn't the time for that long past?

Similarly, the Sun-Times's editorial is titled "No Olympic-Size Gamble Without Full Public Debate."

And while we're at it, let's debate Millennium Park and Soldier Field!

Apparently there's a grace period. No debate until it will no longer be useful.

That's why I was only angry to read Rick Telander's rant that excited so many Olympic critics. Where have you been, Rick? Just figure it out?

Ben's been awfully lonely without y'all.


Fool them once, shame on you. Fool them over and over and over again and they probably work for a Chicago newspaper.

And don't even get me started about the TV stations.

Lies And Damn Lies
"Tax money isn't paying for it," Mayor Daley said back in February.

Maybe he meant "Yet."


Even that's not true, though. We've been paying all along.

Learning To Hate Chicago
Inside the pain of Leanita McClain, the Tribune's first African-American editorial writer.

The Madigan Mystery
Why is the White House pushing her to run for the Senate?

Tangled Webio
A tale that includes Mike North, Tom Shaer, and the man the mayor once hired to protect us from terrorists.


The Beachwood Tip Line: Fully guaranteed.


Posted on June 18, 2009

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BOOKS - China Holding Swedish Publisher.


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