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The [Thursday] Papers

Did Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg seal a Democratic primary victory next week for Cook County President John Stroger by attacking him in print Tuesday even while Stroger lay in a hospital recovering from a stroke?

If the anger of callers to WVON-AM yesterday (and continuing this morning) is any indication, the answer is, Very Much So. From the sound of it, Steinberg's column and subsequent interview on the station, which has a largely African-American listenership, energized a number of voters who may feel more passionately about Steinberg's work than Stroger's.

In fact, several callers to The Roland Martin Show, hosted by Roland S. Martin, executive editor of the Chicago Defender, called for a boycott of the Sun-Times until Steinberg apologizes.

What was so offensive about what Steinberg wrote?

Well, just to take one example, Steinberg wondered why anyone should have any more compassion for the ill Stroger than he thinks Stroger has shown for picknickers who have to put up with garbage-strewn county parks.

Steinberg may as well have offered Stroger supporters a ride to the polls.

Steinberg then went on Martin's show and, in his inimitable style, made things worse. Here is a rough, edited transcript of Steinberg's exchange with Martin. I can't say it is accurate to the last "a," "an," and "the," as I was typing as fast as I could when the interview came on, but I'd say it is 99 percent accurate.

UPDATE: The Defender has posted a podcast of the show here.

Roland Martin: (Reading from Steinberg's column) "But surprise, surprise, the man seems to be actually sick." Why did you choose to make light of his illness?

Neil Steinberg: Well, initially he checked himself in and there was a question of was he ill. I mean, we always wish well for the man . . . "

RM: But that's not what you wrote. You made light of his illness.

NS: That's how you view it.

RM: You say, "But surprise, surprise, the man seems to be actually sick, though the results are the same: to take the air out of the surging Forrest Claypool campaign, as the media focuses, not on the dynamic reformer who has pulled within striking distance of the longtime pol, but on Stroger."

NS: Yeah, that's what I wrote.

RM: "Seems to be." But he's actually sick.

NS: I understand that he seems to be sick.

RM: No, he is sick.

NS: Okay, he is sick. I don't see the point . . .

RM: Did you write your column before the news conference [about Stroger's condition]?

NS: Yes, I wrote my column before the news conference.

RM: That seems like a ridiculous thing for a journalist to do. Why not go back and change it?

NS: John Stroger's a terrible politician who shouldn't win the election. That's the [most important thing]. Whether he's sick or not isn't important.

RM: It is important! You're saying [he's faking it for sympathy].

NS: No, he didn't do it for the purpose of the campaign, that's the surprising part.

RM: Why such a personal attack when a man is actually sick?

NS: Right, but he's 76 years old and he's overweight and he's diabetic. He's going to be sick. That's another reason not to re-elect him. Did you not read the column?

RM: I read the column!

NS: No, I mean in general. It's always like that . . . The election's on Tuesday. We don't have time for this. His sickness is beside the point.

RM: But you're making light of this man's sickness.

NS: Okay, good.

RM: That's like me making light of you slapping your wife around.

NS: Well, you just did.

[crosstalk]

NS: I think he's a lousy politician who should lose, that's why I'm making light of it. Why are you treating him respectfully?

RM: I'M TREATING HIM RESPECTFULLY BECAUSE THE MAN SUFFERED A DAMN STROKE!

NS: You throw your respect around based on how sick somebody is?

RM: I would not make light of you if you had a stroke.

NS: That's your choice, my friend.

RM: That is a ridiculous type of journalism. You owe your readers an apology and you owe everybody who bought your paper an apology.

NS: Well, the people who bought the paper already knew from the front page that he had a stroke . . . It's not my fault they waited 12 hours to tell us what happened.

RM: It's called taking tests.

NS: He didn't go to County [Hospital]. (Pause.) I'm trying to change the subject. Because it's getting dull for me. It must be getting dull for whatever listeners you have.

RM: When you slapped your wife around we did not make light of it because we understand the power of addiction.

NS: I don't think I made light of it. I made light of what a slimy pol Stroger is.

RM: Well, you're a slimy journalist.

NS: I'm not going to help you fill your show. If you're not going to be respectful . . .

END.

Steinberg's Smarts: Then again, Steinberg is smarter than one of the smartest people I've come across in 20 years as a reporter: U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Other Ways to Execute a John Stroger Column
John Kass delivers the political insight.

John McCormick delivers the grace.

Payne Relief
Beachwood Special Correspondent Tim Willette tipped me a few days ago that WGN-TV reporter Allison Payne gave a real stemwinder at Rainbow/PUSH on Saturday about the media's disparate coverage of missing white women and missing women of color. (You can watch the PUSH's Saturday Forums live on CAN-TV's Channel 36 at 10 a.m., but attending is always a worthwhile experience.)

On Tuesday night WGN aired a segment by Payne called "Missing Women of Color."

Are her Tribune Company bosses watching and listening?

You can see the video for yourself on WGNTV.com. The video options are on the upper right rail. You will have to click on "more video," and then scroll halfway down the page to "WGN News at Nine Segment Information."

Kick That Block
The company the city finally chose to redevelop the seemingly-cursed Block 37 downtown is in a bit of trouble. The Chicago papers have reported on some of the travails of the Virginia-based Mills Corp., unavoidably including sunny reassurances from city officials that everything will be okay, though the company is now up for sale.

The Wall Street Journal reported further Wednesday on Mills's woes. The company, the Journal says, "has burned investors with a series of missteps in the past 13 months . . . restated its earnings twice, written off 10 projects and announced the layoffs of nearly 100 employees."

UPDATE: "Dispute Halts Construction at Block 37"

Explaining Englewood
The Tribune followed up on its story about CeaseFire funding in Englewood, but again failed to answer the key question: Who is responsible?

"In last year's final budget negotiations, the Blagojevich administration agreed in writing with several legislators to target specific amounts of CeaseFire funding for their districts," the paper said. "The result: Districts with the strongest political advocates got the most money."

Nicely put. But the obvious question begged here isn't answered: Who in the Blagojevich administration agreed? Which legislators? What happened, exactly?

The paper then goes on to quote Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff saying, "We just want to make sure the communities that have the greatest need are getting resources."

But clearly the paper has just shown that that is exactly what the Blagojevich administration didn't do.

The interests of fair reporting don't include an obligation to print whatever an official spokesperson says just because they say it. In fact, I'd say the interests of fair reporting demand just the opposite.

Not Explaining Englewood
Among the locations where the Tribune has bureaus:

Buenos Aires
Vernon Hills
Schaumburg
London
Oakbrook
Englewood
Tinley Park
Moscow

Correction
The Tribune doesn't staff Englewood.

But yeah, the community really ought to do something about the violence.

Piercing Insight
If I had seen it earlier yesterday, I would have skewered Jennifer Hunter's latest "Scribble" column, in which she discovers that even "valedictorian types, kids who would never dye their hair blue" are getting tattoos and piercings. I might have wrtiten something like this: "Welcome back to consciousness, Mrs. Hunter! And how long have you been frozen, 20 years now?"

But I didn't see it in time for yesterday's column. So I guess I missed a good opportunity, but I'm sure I'll get another one.

Hunter, by the way, is married to Sun-Times publisher John Cruickshank, who once said upon her hiring that her new Sun-Times column and position on the editorial board were a "step down" from her previous job editing North Shore magazine.

Which seems to say a lot about the regard in which he holds Sun-Times columns and editorials.

Decoding Dennis
The first installment is here. The second installment is below. Once again, "Said" is FitzSimons, "Unsaid" is Columbia Journalism Review's comment. "BR" is The Beachwood Reporter adding value.

Said: "We are local media."

Unsaid: So of course they killed Chicago's 115-year-old City News Service, shuttered eleven community papers owned by The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and decimated Newsday's New York City desk--all part of a companywide drive-by that netted 900 jobs and counting (800 from the publishing side, while the ad sales force grew). It's hard to see how this will sharpen "Tribune's edge," which FitzSimons told The New York Times recently is "is unique ability to cover its local communities like no one else can."

BR: FitzSimons is right; the Tribune Company just may be better than anyone else in its unique ability to cover local communities by reducing its presence in local communities. Like Englewood.

Said: "Our [TV] stations in Philadelphia and San Diego have moved to the news outsourcing model we've used successfully in Miami."

Unsaid: Outsourcing meant laying off the entire news staff in Philly and San Diego and airing a product produced by local NBC affiliates--not exactly a commitment to that "important journalistic mission."

BR: C'mon, CJR, that's just the "unique ability" FitzSimons was talking about in your previous item. Plus, FitzSimons never said which local media Tribune is. In Philly and San Diego, apparently, he meant that Tribune is NBC local media.


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Posted on March 16, 2006


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
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SPORTS - Saturday's 'Greatest Horse Since Secretariat.'

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