The [Tuesday] Papers
"It's been hot - and it's going to get even hotter in the days ahead," Tom Skilling writes at the Tribune's Chicago Weather Center. "Summer's warmest spell of weather to date is showing NO sign of breaking down or retreating, at least through the coming weekend."
Uh-oh, capital letters!
Why, Tom, why?
"The heat which grips much of the country is occurring within a gargantuan air mass which sent 90-degree or higher temperatures into all or parts of 43 states Monday. Hotter Midwest readings included 99-degrees at Des Moines and Omaha, Nebraska; 98 at Minneapolis; 97 at St. Louis and 95-degrees at La Crosse, Wisconsin. Closer to home, residents of Kenosha, Wisconsin broiled in 96-degree afternoon temperatures."
This seems like a good time to revisit former mayor Richard M. Daley's neglectful response to the historic 1995 heat wave, which to date is the worst natural disaster in Chicago history yet has been nicely airbrushed out of Daley's legacy. More than 700 people died.
On August 2, 2006, I recalled Eric Klinenberg's book Heat Wave, and wrote in part:
"The deep, layered reporting and social analysis of Klinenberg's Heat Wave exposed a stubborn, wrong-headed, uncompassionate mayor whose failure to grasp the situation undoubtedly added to the death toll, abetted by a gullible and shallow media.
"Perhaps that's why, to this day, Klinenberg's book gets short shrift in Chicago, when in fact it is a masterpiece belonging among the top Chicago books of all time - even if Tribune 'literary editor' Elizabeth Taylor, who edits the paper's book review, once told me she just didn't think the book was that big of a deal.
"After all, Klinenberg documented a mayor and City Hall staff more concerned with public relations than with the bodies piling up at the morgue that summer, and a media that failed as well to grasp the tragedy as it unfolded, preferring to put its faith in the mayor and the limited imaginations of its editors and producers in turning out the same hoary cliches as stories that it does every year when it gets hot."
I suggest you go read the whole column, then get the book.
On August 3, 2006, I returned to the topic as the local media made a hero of Daley and his response to a heat wave that was then occurring, writing in part:
"As Eric Klinenberg points out in Heat Wave, the mayor's after-report on the tragedy was called Final Report: The Mayor's Commission On Extreme Weather Conditions; note the lack of reference to, um, the heat wave. The cover of the report contained graphics of both a sun and a snowflake.
"The report, controlled and edited by the mayor's office, was of course a whitewash. 'The executive summary offered by the Mayor's Office, for example, reports that the numbers of African-American and white victims were almost identical, even though the death ratio and age-adjusted death ratio - which are included in a less prominent section of the document - show that African-Americans experienced substantially higher death rates than whites. Similarly, the only neighborhood-level analysis presented in the summary explains that nearly all community areas in Chicago were affected, which is analagous to saying that nearly all areas in the city are affected by poverty or crime, because it conceals the enormous variation in neighborhood mortality levels,' Klinenberg wrote.
"The Tribune also says today that the city 'came under severe scrutiny' for its handling of the 1995 heat wave. Really? Not by the local media, according to Klinenberg's exhaustively researched book, published in 2002. It was Klinenberg, not the local press, who reported nauseating nuggets like this one from a 'key member' of the Department of Health:
"'When Daley denied the Chief Medical Examiner's reports, he defined everything that the city would do on this for the next six months. You have to understand, there were nine refrigerated trucks holding bodies in the parking lot of the morgue, a long line of police cars delivering more, and there is the mayor - mayor of the third-largest city in the United States - denying that people were dying, or later denying that the deaths had anything to do with the heat. Imagine what the mayor's position on the heat wave did for the morale of other city employees and city agencies, or how it limited their capacity to do their work. Once the mayor took the position that the death rates were overstated it became impossible for city employees to say anything else. We were forced to find all sorts of ways to reframe the issue or to talk around what was happening. We couldn't contest his position, and in this case that meant we couldn't be fully explicit about what we were finding.'
"Daley's position also successfully framed the media's coverage, Klinenberg shows. At the Tribune, 'the situation provoked a conflict among the editors, with some of them sympathetic to Mayor Daley's initial claims that the mortality figures were overstated, while others were convinced that the city was experiencing a genuine catastrophe.'
"Of course, it doesn't matter what editors think; what matters is going out and getting the story. But the mayor's statements - which we now know we're part of a concentrated public relations effort - put doubts in the minds of local editors, reporters, and even hard-boiled columnists such as Mike Royko, who wrote a front-page column titled 'Killer Heat Wave Or Media Event?'"
"Lead plaintiff Chalonda Jasper, an Indiana mother, may have been grossed out by the beetle parts, but she may have no legal recourse against Abbott, even though she relied upon Abbot's ad slogans, which included, 'When it comes to the science of nutrition, Similac stands apart.'"
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Posted on July 19, 2011
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