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The [Tuesday] Papers

Let's take Chicago Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank's word for it, at least for now. Cruickshank told Crain's Chicago Business on Monday that the business section of his paper had no idea that Washington Mutual bank was sponsoring a free giveaway of the paper downtown with a parodic advertising wraparound with fake front page produced by the bank.

Cruickshank was answering the question because the business section's top real news story inside the paper was: "Wa-Mu Kicks Off a Free-For-All."

The story, written by Mary Wisniewski, started this way:

"Washington Mutual, a Seattle bank trying to win customers in the tough Chicago market, launches a powerful new weapon today in the free checking wars."

"The new 'Wa-Mu Free-Checking' account offers free withdrawals at non-Washington Mutual ATMs, a yearly overdraft fee waiver, free checks for life, free outbound wire transfers and 3 cents back for each debit-card purchase, up to a maximum of a $250 rebate a year.

"'We've added features we think creates a package that's unmatched in the industry,' said Steve Rotella, chief operating officer and president of the Seattle-based bank. 'We feel confident it's a huge win for consumers.'"

And on it went, accompanied by a sizable photo of a smiling "personal financial representative" (quite possibly known in other times and places as a "teller") helping a customer, a head shot of president Rotella, and a chart comparing the bank's Chicago area deposit market share with its top competitors.

The article ended this way, without mentioning the Sun-Times tie-in, which was either on purpose or the result of Wisniewski and her editors missing a big part of the story:

"Washington Mutual is launching a national advertising campaign Monday, created by Leo Burnett in Chicago, that according to a WaMu statement 'pokes fun at old-fashioned bankers enraged with WaMu's new product.'"

Question of the Day: So would it be worse if the Sun-Times made a deal with the advertising devil and published this story as a sop to the bank for buying the wraparound/giveaway, or if Wisniewski and her editors published this story on their own accord because they judged it journalistically viable and deserving of its prime play?

Chasing Bankers: Page 3 of the Sun-Times's Monday business section may clear things up. That's where Wisniewski reports that "JP Morgan Chase is offering low-income tax filers a way to get their refunds safely without having a bank account or going to a currency exchange . . . "

So yeah, Cruickshank's denial is totally believable.

Standing Ovation
Meanwhile, The New York Times published a story on its front page Sunday about a Deerfield pharmaceutical company whose practices the paper said illustrate "the soaring price of cancer medicines and the tendency for those prices to have little relation to the cost of developing or making the drugs."

The story started out this way:

"On Feb. 3, Joyce Elkins filled a prescription for a two-week supply of nitrogen mustard, a decades-old cancer drug used to treat a rare form of lymphoma. The cost was $77.50.

"On Feb. 17, Ms. Elkins, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in Georgetown, Tex., returned to her pharmacy for a refill. This time, following a huge increase in the wholesale price of the drug, the cost was $548.01.

"Ms. Elkins's insurance does not cover nitrogen mustard, which she must take for at least the next six months at a cost that will now total nearly $7,000. She and her husband, who works for the Texas Department of Transportation, are paying for the medicine by spending less on utilities and food, she said.

"The medicine, also known as Mustargen, was developed more than 60 years ago and is among the oldest chemotherapy drugs. For decades, it has been blended into an ointment by pharmacists and used as a topical treatment for a cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a form of cancer that mainly affects the skin.

"Last August, Merck, which makes Mustargen, sold the rights to manufacture and market it and Cosmegen, another cancer drug, to Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a six-year-old company in Deerfield, Ill., that buys slow-selling medicines from big pharmaceutical companies.

"The two drugs are used by fewer than 5,000 patients a year and had combined sales of about $1 million in 2004.

"Now Ovation has raised the wholesale price of Mustargen roughly tenfold and that of Cosmegen even more, according to several pharmacists and patients."

Ovation doesn't seem to have gotten any critical scrutiny thus far in the Chicago press, though I did find a couple previous Sun-Times articles fawning over the company.

In April 2005, Ted Pincus wrote: "A pharmaceutical company that doesn't invent pharmaceuticals, and that pursues health care markets nobody wants? That's the niche of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a young Deerfield company whose non-scientific entrepreneur-founder has broken all the rules--with remarkable success."

In July 2003, Francine Knowles wrote: "Fifteen months after landing $150 million in equity financing, Deerfield-based Ovation Pharmaceuticals Founder and President Jeffrey S. Aronin says the upstart company's prescription for growth is producing good results."

For the company, that is. Consumers aren't mentioned.

Back on the Webb
Eric Zorn offers in his Tribune column today his top three reasons "why former Gov. George Ryan will be found guilty on at least some of the 18 counts against him now being considered by a federal jury."

I've been sparring with Zorn about the media's coverage of the Ryan trial and my view that Ryan defense lawyer Dan Webb spun reporters mercilessly. Daily Herald reporter Rob Olmstead joined the debate yesterday both on this site and on Zorn's blog with a vigorous--though in my opinion completely wrong--defense of his work and the work of his peers.

My question to Zorn today is: If Webb gave such a glowing performance, what in the evidence has changed in the last few days that you can now write persuasively about why Ryan will be convicted? Or is it the case that Webb's rhetoric was persuasive for all of a day and then vanished in the mist?

Explaining Englewood
In the wake of two shooting deaths of young girls in Englewood--one of whom was attending her birthday party--the Chicago Tribune reported today that the poverty-stricken neighborhood has been shortchanged in its share of state funds for the violence prevention program known as CeaseFire.

The Tribune found that Englewood gets the least amount of state funding among 15 Chicago neighborhoods served by the program.

"[T]he politics that inevitably decide where state money lands have prevented the program from growing in some of the areas of greatest need," the paper says.

But while the Tribune says that money tends to go to the communities whose political advocates are most deft, the paper is passive on just who dropped the ball, and who actually makes the funding decisions.

Former Englewood state Rep. Patricia Bailey, recently convicted on multiple counts of perjury and election fraud, is reported to have been a strong voice for CeaseFire funding during the last budget round.

So who screwed up? And who exactly makes the funding decisions?

Panther Prints
Just in time for the Fred Hampton Way controversy, the new issue of Print magazine carries an article about the Black Panther Party's resident graphic designer, called "The Art of Self-Defense."

"In 1967, the most radical graphic expression in San Francisco appeared not in pacifist psychedelia but in the revolutionary design of Emory Douglas and the Black Panther Party," the magazine says.

Douglas, who still lives in San Francisco, was the Black Panther Party's Minister of Culture, and is described by Print as "one of the era's most influential and controversial radical artists."

Douglas designed posters, flyers, and the weekly Black Panther newspaper (in 1969, circulation peaked at 400,000--more than the Sun-Times's circulation today and two-thirds of today's Tribune.)

In Today's Reporter
We kick off our NCAA picks Beachwood-style.

Meet the Van Impes, in our latest TV Preacher Review.

Find out why there are no Asian-American aldermen here.

Tell me if I'm wrong about the media's coverage of Dan Webb and the Ryan trial in our Beachwood forums.

And catch up on previous editions of The Papers, including Saturday, Sunday, and Monday's edition, which was mistakenly replaced by our Marfa Playlist for much of the morning yesterday.

Activate the Tip Line: Used by fine readers like you.


Posted on March 14, 2006

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BOOKS - Stan Lee, Flawed Hero.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: I Am Iron Man.

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