The [Thursday] Papers
Mayor Daley's surprising new proposal to move a proposed Olympic stadium and other venues from the downtown lakefront to Washington Park on the South Side is being greeted in some media corners as a masterstroke. And that's becaue the mayor has a lot of allies in the media - people who seem to think their jobs are to be stenographic cheerleaders rather than journalists. But the truth is that the mayor's new plan represents a stunning reversal and acknowledgement that the original plan was fatally flawed and wasn't going to pass muster with the United States Olympic Comittee.
How do I know? Because the USOC's doubts about the temporary stadium originally proposed for the lakefront have already been reported. The mayor changed his plan because he had to, not because he suddenly had a brilliant idea. And he did it quickly - some might say it was even in a panic.
Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th) said on Chicago Tonight last night that she first heard of the plan Wednesday morning. "The administration, that's how they do things sometimes," she said. Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) told the Defender that the Chicago 2016 Olympic Evaluation Committee didn't do itself any favors by not getting community support before the announcement - you know, the community Daley is suddenly so interested in helping.
The mayor's Olympic dreams - if they aren't instead just a political distraction - might have more truthfully been portrayed in the media as a plan in trouble that necessitated a shift, one demanding journalistic scrutiny. Not undue criticism, just due critical thinking. It may be a great plan, it may not be. We have no way to judge for ourselves if journalists don't ask the questions that ought to be asked.
Instead, we get Channel 2's Antonio Mora, for example, to a beaming Derrick Blakely, "Let's hope it does help get the city the Olympics!"
Aside from wondering whether its really a good idea for the city to build a "state-of-the-art" stadium larger than Soldier Field in Washington Park that will later be reduced to a 10,000-seat running track, the media shouldn't be operating from a base assumption that getting the Olympics is a good thing. The media ought to be not just neutral on the question, but tend toward skepticism. That's how you do your job, because it helps you formulate questions you don't think of when you are a cheerleader.
It's quite possible, maybe even likely, that the Olympics could be a net economic loss. Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), for one, is questioning whether the millions of dollars spent on an Olympic bid wouldn't be better spent directly on neighborhood schools and parks. He may have a point.
As usual, Fran Spielman and the Sun-Times aren't interested in questioning the mayor.
"Downtown is the best possible showcase for an Olympic stadium, but it's more important to share the wealth, Mayor Daley said Wednesday," Spielman wrote in the opening to her story this morning, perfectly mimicking Daley's own statement two paragraphs later. Maybe Spielman and her editors were out sick the day the rest of us were taught in Journalism 101 not to do that.
They must have been out sick too the day we were taught not to take what people say at face value. Did the mayor really just discover that it's important to share the wealth? If so, a good question to ask the mayor would be, "What was it that made you suddenly realize, after all the planning that has occurred so far, that you should share the wealth? Please describe this ephiphany to us."
The fact is that if the USOC hadn't told the city that its plan for a temporary lakefront stadium and dual venues for opening and closing ceremonies wasn't viable, that would still be the plan and the mayor would not have come to realize the virtues of sharing the wealth.
"If you're going to have a long legacy for the city, you have to move it out into the communities," Daley said at his press conference.
Oh really, Mr. Mayor? Why didn't this occur to you in the first place?
"Washington Park would further benefit from two Astroturf fields for hockey and football, ugraded softball fields, bike paths and revitalized lagoons," Spielman transcribes. "Lighting and security would be improved and neighborhood parking built. Neighborhood streets and L stops would be overhauled. There's even the possibility of dramatic mass transit connections."
Um, maybe those things should be done even without an Olympics? Mr. Mayor, how could you have let Washington Park fall into such disrepair? If the city doesn't get the Olympics will you still fund these Washington Park improvements? Shouldn't the wealth in Chicago be spread even if the Olympics are held somewhere else?
"The surprise shift stems from two major factors," Spielman continues. "Daley's long-standing desire for a location that serves as a catalyst for neighborhood development, and the U.S. Olympic Committee's more recent concern about tight lakefront space."
If Daley had a long-standing desire for a neighborhood location, he would have gotten one in the first go-around.
"When the USOC raised questions about congestion, Daley had the opening he needed to make a renewed push for the South Side - and to undercut the downtown-centric development claims of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a possible mayoral challenger," Spielman writes, in a passage that can only be sourced to mayoral aides spinning a story to their favorite City Hall reporter.
Daley needed an opening for a renewed South Side push? The downtown Olympics had been forced on him? He wanted the South Side all along? Please.
At least Spielman names Jackson in her story. If you can't see the politics written all over this, particularly following the mayor's absurd - and largely unchallenged by the media - claim that the big-box ordinance was designed to punish African Americans, then you have no business being a newspaper reporter - or, really, a citizen of Chicago.
"Who lives out here?" the mayor said at his press conference. "African Americans in large percentages, so they are going to be part and parcel of this."
Apparently nobody thought to ask the mayor why they weren't going to be part and parcel of it before the USOC stepped in.
Number of skeptical voices in Spielman's story: 0.
Grade she would get in virtually every journalism school in the country: F.
The Tribune, while guilty of some cheerleading violations, did better. The paper not only included Munoz's complaint, but the quite valid objections of Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks. "It seems to me this plan would destroy the legacy of Olmsted in that park," Tranter said. "It doesn't sound like a sunken stadium fits in with Frederick Law Olmsted's design of the park, which is a historic landmark."
Likewise, Jim Peters of Landmark Illinois said on Chicago Tonight last night that, contrary to officials' statements, he didn't think Olmsted would approve of putting a 90,000-seat stadium with parking lots and drop-off zones for limos and all the rest in the middle of his creation. "A park is not a place to put a giant stadium," Peters said.
Troutman disagreed. "I don't think it would destroy the park. No, not at all . . . We develop everywhere but our side of town."
Really? Daley has been mayor for 17 years. Might want to ask him about that.
The Tribune also included a story gauging immediate neighborhood reaction, both good and bad, and an analysis by Blair Kamin backing the plan but acknowledging that the city's first stadium plan "was a loser."
If it hadn't been, the mayor wouldn't have felt the sudden need to "spread the wealth."
But that's the story the mayor and his people want to tell, and as usual, they have a lot of takers.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Spreading the wealth since 2006.
Posted on September 21, 2006
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