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The [Tuesday] Papers

Tribune media writer Phil Rosenthal writes today that the media has nothing to apologize for in its latest spasm of JonBenet Ramsey coverage. "[I]t wasn't the media that made [John Mark] Karr the prime suspect for 12 days in a 10-year-old murder case. You can thank authorities in Thailand and Colorado for that."

Yes, let's thank authorities in Thailand and Colorado - for doing their jobs, which is to investigate crime suspects. The media's job is to report when those suspects are charged. That is one eroded standard that ought to be restored; haven't we all learned by now why this was a good rule to begin with? How many times must we raise the specter of Richard Jewell? Karr's satisfying creepiness is not license to override the basic building blocks of reporting.

"The media reported doubts almost from the start," Rosenthal argues.

Yes. Almost. First, the media convicted Karr. Then, seeing holes in its own reporting, it convicted the Boulder D.A.'s office. Whatever.

"The media never learns," Bill Maher said on Larry King Live last night. "The press is so uncritical about what they choose to cover, and what questions they choose to ask."

Maybe that's because the media - including newspapers - has given itself completely over to marketing values. JonBenet Ramsey sells newspapers and, presumably, gooses ratings. As Maher said, "any excuse to show footage of her prancing around in a cowboy outfit like a little whore."

Journalism values counsel restraint on a story like that of John Mark Karr. Marketing values see a business opportunity, not unlike publishing flags and cheerleading a disastrous war, pimping patriotism for a few extra pennies.

Rosenthal doesn't think the media has anything to apologize for, but did the Sun-Times really have to give over an entire front page to a JonBenet photo?

Did the cable news networks really have to spend hours every night in pure speculation rather than devoting those resources to actual acts of journalism?

And, as pointed out by Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo (via this History News Network blog post), did The New York Times really need to devote 13 contributing reporters to a recent front page JonBenet Ramsey story while supplying just two to its story about a federal judge's ruling in the NSA wiretapping case? (Beyond that, the HNN blogger adds: "I'm trying to recall the name of any of the 550 other American children who were murdered in 1996.")

That doesn't mean that Karr wasn't newsworthy. It's just that his newsworthiness derived only from the hype this case got in the first place.

Yes, as the pundits keep reminding us, John Mark Karr is "creepy." But how much more creepy is he, really, than a media establishment equally obsessed with a sexualized doll-child and what may have been done to her and why?

Reporting, restraint, and journalistic values went out the window with this story. Maybe we're so far gone we don't even know the difference anymore.

"What (the media) wanted to do was get back into the JonBenet story, because that's good eyeball grabbing stuff," Maher said.

And for that, I think the media does have something to apologize for.

Sneed asks today whether Karr will sue for false arrest. Yes, I suppose he will, because he claimed his innocence all along, didn't he?

When Sneed advises readers to "Stay tuned," she means to television, because that's where she's getting a lot of her reporting from.

Sneed sends "a belated brand new birthday wish for Edward Burke Murphy, aka Teddy, who was born earlier this month to Jennifer and Jim Murphy. In case you're wondering, Grandpa Ed and Grandma Anne Burke are over the moon."

And they've already got a job lined up for him.

Emergency Broadcasting System
City officials will stage a mock evacuation of the Loop next week to test their emergency response plan. Afterwards, city officials will stage a mock press conference to see how well they can deflect blame for everything that went wrong.

Meta Zorn
Eric Zorn blogs a panel we sat on this weekend about blogging. Main point of contention: Allowing anonymous comments. I'm against them, but I'm open to being persuaded otherwise.

And in the end. . .
Greatest Juggler Ever.

Museum of Lost Chicago
Yesterday I suggested the soon-to-be vacant Carson Pirie Scott store on State Street become a museum for Lost Chicago, housing such long-gone classics as the neighborhood tavern, chain link fences, and the middle class. Rick Kaempfer has a few more suggestions:

1. People who . . . smile at you.
2. Independent book stores
3. Less than 22 minutes of commercials an hour on our local radio stations.
4. Schlitz on tap.

Pluto Post-Mortems
It comes to my attention that Paige Wiser wasn't the first or only writer to suggest the new mnemonic for the post-Pluto world has just shifted from "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas to "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us . . . Nothing," as she wrote (without the ellipses) this weekend and I linked to yesterday.

The Tribune's Jeremy Manier wrote just that on August 24. I can only surmise that the two greatest science writing minds in town think alike.

For more on new mnemonics, the Tribune solicited suggestions from readers here, the best of which is "Here's how I'll remember:"

And "My! Very Educated Morons Just Screwed Up Numerous Planetariums" won this contest.

BREAKING PLUTO UPDATE/CORRECTION 1:07 P.M.: Okay, Pluto is still not a planet, but it's come to my attention that I've managed to screw this item up about 50 different ways.

First, Paige wrote "My Very Efficient Mother Just Served Us . . . Nothing." Jeremy wrote "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us . . . Nothing." Two different mothers, it would seem.

Also, you might have noticed that both used ellipses, contrary to what I wrote originally. A small point, but just to set the mnemonic record straight.

Finally, the line about the two smartest science writers in the city thinking alike was a tip-off that in no way is Paige being accused of wrongdoing; only coincidentally clever thinking. Frickin' astronomers.

County Line
There were four people at the Chicago Tonight table last night discussing Cook County's latest hiring scandal: Democratic board president nominee Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), Republican board president nominee Tony Peraica, county commissioner Mike Quigley, and moderator Carol Marin.

Three of them seemed like plausible county board presidents. The other is the one who will probably get the job.

Tony Trumps Todd
Todd Stroger's performance last night sealed it for me: Vote Tony!

"I don't think there are a lot of people from the 8th Ward who are hired and who work for the county," Stroger said.

Marin pointed out that numerous reports state otherwise.

"I've never seen a report that actually states that," Stroger said.

And maybe he hasn't. That doesn't mean they don't exist.

"Vast numbers (of recent hires) do come from the 8th Ward," Peraica said. "Everybody knows that in order to get hired at the county, you have to have a political pedigree."

Just in case you think that's a partisan statement, Quigley, a Democrat, was shaking his head in agreement as Peraica said it.

"It's a pattern of behavior I've watched for eight years," Quigley said. "If something were to close Stroger Hospital, there'd probably be a mini-Depression in the 8th Ward."

Stroger said government does need to be restructured. For example, his father never used a computer, while he gets his schedule electronically.

Marin pointed out this wasn't about technology, but about corruption.

"President Stroger would never bring in anybody who wasn't qualified," Todd said.

Maybe he meant to say he's never read reports that state that. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

George W. Stroger
The Sun-Times's Abdon Pallasch reports further today on Stroger's lack of curiosity.

"In last week's story, the Sun-Times quoted Highway Department supervisor Eric Petraitis saying he felt pressured by former President John Stroger's patronage chief Gerald Nichols to change test scores so Todd Stroger's friend Dwayne Robinson, who was rated unqualified for a highway job, could be hired instead of a candidate who was qualified," Pallasch writes.

"Todd Stroger concedes a close friendship with Robinson and Nichols, who is an unpaid advisor to his campaign and serves as secretary of his ward organization. Stroger said he has talked to Nichols since the Sun-Times story appeared last Monday. But Stroger said he never asked Nichols about the allegations."

The Beachwood Tip Line: Your Venus, your fire, at your desire.


Posted on August 29, 2006

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