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The [Wednesday] Papers

"Chicago Housing Authority Chief Terry Peterson is taking a leave of absence to run Mayor Daley's re-election campaign in the first concrete sign that Daley intends to shake off recent corruption scandals and seek a sixth term, sources said Tuesday," the Sun-Times reports this morning, in a story with a double-decker front page headline reading "FIRST SIGN DALEY WILL RUN AGAIN" and sub-headlined "CHA Chief Taking Leave Of Absence To Head Mayor's Re-Election Campaign."

Can someone explain to me how hiring a campaign manager is only a "sign" that a campaign exists? Is a campaign still in doubt if Peterson is leaving his post to run it?

Seems to me the paper could have run a headline and story declaring that the mayor is running for re-election. But then, maybe that's not the headline the paper's sources want just yet. Spinning out the story of the mayor's re-election effort slowly might get them a series of stories tuned up just the way they want them, instead of putting the mayor in a position where he might receive critical questions about his candidacy.

For example, this way, you get stories with passages like this one:

"Daley made the decision to let Peterson go only after he was assured that there would be a 'seamless transition' with Peterson handing the reins to [CHA board chair Sharon Gist] Gilliam. The two have worked 'hand-in-hand' to dismantle CHA high-rises and replace them with thriving mixed-income communities, a top mayoral aide said."

This wouldn't have made it into my college paper, nor any newspaper or news organization I have worked at in 20 years, except perhaps The Courier in Waterloo, Iowa, where I once spent nine hellish months. Maybe that's why the Sun-Times's reporting often evokes small-town Iowa to me.

First, an aide with the agenda of making the mayor look good peddles the notion that Daley only accepted the campaign manager of his choice after he was assured the CHA would not be harmed by the absence of that man's leadership. What a selfless guy. He was assured of a "seamless transition," because, you know, if changing chief executives at the CHA was anything less than that, the deal was off.

Then we are assured that the mayor and Peterson have worked "hand-in-hand" - because the mayor is a roll-up-his-sleeves-and-git-'er-done kind of guy - in dismantling CHA high-rises and replacing them "with thriving mixed-income communities."

Can someone point me to these thriving mixed-income communities? Provided "mixed-income" doesn't mean the rich and the richer?

Every evaluation of the mayor's "Plan For Transformation" has shown that what has come to pass is just what critics of the plan said would come to pass: CHA residents are largely being shut out of the new communities replacing their old homes, and finding themselves with little or no support in finding adequate housing to move to instead. In particular, the Plan For Transformation is causing a resegregation of former public housing residents in both poor city and poor suburban neighborhoods.

Just because "a top mayoral aide" says otherwise, you don't have to print it.

Not only that, but under what conditions does the Sun-Times grant sources anonymity? I find it's usually when the mayor's people want to issue a press release through City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

I mean, does "a top mayoral aide" really need anonymity to polish the mayor's apples?

Then there's the "Daley adviser" who asked to remain unnamed for daring to say "Nobody's heard [the mayor] say it, but if you're looking for tangibles, this is as good a sign as ever."

Oh, I get it. That's where Spielman and her editors got the idea that this was a "sign," not actual confirmation that a re-election campaign exists.

The system works - if you're on the mayor's media team,

Daley Dose
"Daley said he expects to be judged on his entire record - not on the hiring abuses for which he has accepted ultimate responsibility," Spielman also wrote, validating a mayoral talking point without thinking for herself.

The "hiring abuses" are not just a trifle; it's very possible the ongoing investigation could lead to racketeering charges that would formally define city government as a criminal enterprise.

Besides that, does anyone really believe the mayor has taken ultimate responsibility? Or was that what he was doing when he endorsed that fundraiser for convicted patronage chief Robert Sorich?

And if the mayor is ultimately responsible for the hiring fraud, won't it be hard for him to run the city from behind bars?

Model A
To see the flip side of Spielman's reporting in the Sun-Times, read the work of Abdon Pallasch, whose work I've long admired. At the end of Pallasch's story this morning about Cook County hiring controversies, he showed why he is one of the city's best reporters.

"A week ago, after being interviewed about the Sun-Times whistleblower story, [Interim county board president Bobbie] Steele removed Stroger's patronage chief, Gerald Nichols, from his office just outside hers, but let him keep his $114,000-a-year salary and an office with duties to be determined.

"Asked Tuesday if Nichols had any role in lining up county jobs held by several of her relatives, Steele said, "No, no no no."

Good question! Whether Steele's answer is truthful remains to be seen, but a question and answer well worth asking and publishing.

Daley Diet
Has Spielman asked the mayor - or any of his anonymous aides - why he didn't veto the foie gras ban the City Council passed last April that he now finds so silly? I'm just wondering if he's taking ultimate responsibility. Plus, Sun-Times readers want to know. (starting with the second letter)

Hiring Thaw
"Most of us, when we hear about how such-and-such business or government has instituted a hiring freeze, no doubt think that means a freeze on hiring," the Sun-Times editorial page says today. "As in, hiring is frozen. As in, nobody's getting hired. In the topsy-turvy world of Cook County government, however, a hiring freeze appears to have an entirely different meaning."

I'm obviously not here to defend Cook County's hiring practices, but anyone who has ever worked at a newspaper - or anywhere, really - knows that a hiring freeze is never really a hiring freeze as in, hiring is frozen and nobody's getting hired. Even at the Sun-Times.

Juggler Judgement
Yesterday I linked to this amazing juggling performance. The Beachwood's very own Marilyn Ferdinand suggests juggling fans check out the work of this fellow, expanded upon here.

Puttin' On the Hits
The Tribune might want to be careful in its reporting of Internet traffic stats. Today, for example, the paper cites a "minor Web sensation" that generated 228,599 hits one day.

One thing I've learned since starting this site is that "hits" is a virtually meaningless statistic. If you visit a Web page with one story and three images on it, that will register as four "hits." We get something like 800,000 hits a month here, but as best as our tools can tell us - and they are far more imprecise than I ever imagined tracking technology would be - we get about 7,000 unique users a month.

A top mayoral aide who asked that his name not be used, however, says 800,000 hits indicates what a great job we are doing, and suggests that I would be willing to take ultimate responsibility if you chose to donate to us through a Beachwood membership. We also offer seamless transitions - though no CHA contracts - to advertisers. If interested, contact me and I'll tell you how.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Always there 4 U.



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Posted on August 30, 2006


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