The [Thursday] Papers
The new Worldwide Press Freedom Index is out and guess what? America ranks 53rd. Among those ranking higher: The Czech Republic; Estonia; Slovakia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, and; Trinidad and Tobago. We are tied with Botswana and just ahead of Uruguay.
It might surprise you that America does so poorly in these rankings - or that, say, our standard of living isn't considered the best in the world according to various independent reports (The U.N. Human Development Index puts us at 10th-best.) We live under illusions - some might call it propaganda - perpetuated by a largely uncritical media. Many media critics, perhaps most expertly Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler, frequently target the "scripts" or "narratives" that the media seizes on and clings to relentlessly, regardless of truth or facts. See this Somerby column about the way these narratives helped put George W. Bush in the White House for a prime example.
We see it here in Chicago all the time. The city has never looked better. Millennium Park is worth the exorbitant cost and rampant mismanagement. The mayor is a good manager. Chicago is a blue-collar town. The schools have improved under Daley. George Ryan is just a small-town pharmacist at heart. Dennis Hastert is virtuous because he was a high school wrestling coach. And so on.
A narrative has developed around Barack Obama too - that he is a new kind of Democrat. Usually that just means an old kind - a moderate. I'm not saying this is bad - he has a Clintonian "Third Way" of trying to build bridges between conservative and liberal approaches. I'm just saying there's nothing particularly new about it. But it's a pleasing script, and the media will flog it as long as they find it useful.
It's not Obama I'm against, it's the hype. The jury is still out on Obama, but the media is already guilty of overkill, often delivered for the express purpose of selling magazines and newspapers without regard to our political life or any real concern over how we choose presidents who, after all, have the power to bully and lie our relatively flaccid nation into disastrous wars that increase the threat not only to our national security but that of the world over.
An anonymous writer for Nerve more accurately tags the high school wrestling coach persona so often ascribed to Hastert as creepy, just as old high school wrestling coaches often seemed to be to teenagers almost universally unthrilled with the jumpsuits, dieting, and close sweaty body contact with strangers.
But that's not really the point of her account of nerdy sex hangups among the political set in Washington, D.C. This is:
"For the most part, people [in Washington] don't really want to sleep with you. They just want to show you off. This Bush appointee invited me into his office during a meeting just so his staff would see me in his office. He didn't really want to have an affair with me. He just wanted people to think he was."
Forrest Claypool fired back at the mayor in the last paragraph of this Tribune story about Daley's endorsement of Todd Stroger and his attack on Claypool, whom he accused of being a poor sport for losing the primary. "I didn't run against Todd Stroger," Claypool said. "I ran against John Stroger, who the mayor assured us was recovering and would be on the ballot in the fall."
Indeed. And yet, the mayor has escaped any notice or accountability for the Stroger fiasco, though he allowed it, is endorsing Todd Stroger, and of course runs Cook County government anyway. Perhaps this should have been the first paragraph of the story.
If you are disgusted by Todd Stroger, you might want to point your disgust at the man pulling the strings, not just the tool whose strings are being pulled.
Daley even escapes being named in this otherwise fine Tribune editorial, "If The Bosses Get Away With This." If only the editorial board would have called Daley out on this one, and if only reporters would, again, press the mayor on this issue (among so many others) and put any unresponsiveness on his part on the front page as an affront to taxpayers. I mean, just who does the Trib think is the biggest boss of them all?
Department of Tony
Why John Kass is invaluable.
Judy Bar Topinka
The part in the Tribune's profile of Judy Baar Topinka today about her reliance on cigarettes and coffee reminds me of Beachwood contributor Tim Willette's assessment of her as the older woman at the end of the bar who says things in a raspy voice like, "Let me tell you something, kid . . . "
Cultural gentrification perverts countercultural fashions while unmooring them from their critical social stances. Juicy Couture skull hoodie for $220 anyone?
(Link is to the original USA Today story because the version appearing in today's Sun-Times, "Find Your Inner Goth," is unavailable online.)
Jon Friedman of MarketWatch is an idiot, but when put against "a top Sneed source" who tattled that Barack Obama "wowed the crowd" at a magazine editor's conference, I'll go with Friedman's more dour assessment. The bigger question is: Why does Sneed need "a top source" to report what she could have learned from making a single phone call to a named source present or even just gleaned from other press reports, the way she gets most of her items? Could the "top source" be someone with a stake in Obama who called Sneed to place the item? Chirp chirp.
It's funny how newspapers - when convenient - like to get all worked up about everyone else's accountability but their own. For example, when will Sneed be held to account?
The Slight One
The Sun-Times exploits a tragedy to try to sell a few more papers to morning commuters.
New York State of Mind
Will the role of former New York comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall on this trip to come under scrutiny?
The [Wednesday] Papers
If you missed yesterday's late-posted column, you can find in the The Papers and Weekend Desk Report archives.
From Beachwood HQ
Continued thanks to those who have purchased Beachwood memberships to support this site. We continue to move forward with expanded content on the site and with our efforts behind the scenes to make a better Beachwood. We are always on the lookout for help with tech (preferably with Movable Type experience), design, editorial, and, of course, the business side of things (specifically marketing and ad sales). It was a year ago that I left my job at Chicago magazine to pursue this venture. As I've mentioned before, we hope to reward our OBMs - Original Beachwood Members - with at least cheap trinkets of our appreciation sometime soon.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Serving at your pleasure.
Posted on October 26, 2006