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The [Wednesday] Papers

The George Ryan verdict continues to dominate the news, as it should. But the Chicago Tribune makes a strange choice today for its top front page story that seems to have more to do with its own ego and bid for a relatively tabloidish headline (relative to the Tribune) than obvious news judgement.

The Tribune seems awfully impressed with its less-than-impressive "INSIDE THE RYAN JURY ROOM" story (and yes, the headline is in all caps, across the top of the page).

But far from delivering a courtroom melodrama about the jury in one of the state's most important trials ever, the story is a rather routine collection of juror reminiscences dressed up with an opening conceit that on the day after the trial ended, the jury room somehow looked like a movie set at the end of a shoot.

What, there were crumpled pages of a script strewn about and a broken director's chair sitting forlornly in the corner?

No. There was a candy dish on "a side table" and, surprise, a dry-erase board and easel facing the head of an oval table.

Message to Tribune: Stop trying so hard to write.

The Tribune also placed on its front page the inevitable back-and-forth between gubernatorial campaigners Rod Blagojevich and Judy Baar Topinka, even though neither had anything remotely of value to say.

Both of these stories made the Trib's front page despite the fact that the big story of the day is the revelation that jury forewoman Sonja Chambers failed to disclose on her juror questionnaire that she had been involved in several court proceedings - the same circumstance that earlier got two jurors kicked off the panel and raised the specter of a mistrial.

(She is also the juror mentioned by a caller to a radio talk show who said she had talked about the case to him; Chambers has denied doing so and Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer reportedly believes her.)

The Chambers disclosure is likely to be the main basis for George Ryan's appeal, but the Tribune not only put that story on page 15, but led the story with the now-just-in news that federal judges in Chicago will consider background checks on future potential jurors. Oh, and that it was the Tribune's efforts that exposed the undisclosed arrest records of the previous two jurors in the first place.

The Chicago Sun-Times broke the news about Chambers yesterday, but I didn't see that anywhere in the Tribune's article.

And while the Tribune did a commendable job a few weeks back with its story about the two jurors who were then dismissed, it looks now like they missed court records in both Cook and Will County involving Chambers.

Perhaps that's why the paper played down the biggest news of the day.

Smart Art: The most compelling aspect of the Tribune's "inside the jury" story is the sketch work of juror Karen James, which is oddly not reproduced online. (When will they learn?)

The paper published James's sketch of Ryan defense lawyer Dan Webb on its front page; a (black-and-white) photo on an inside page catches a glimpse of three other sketches, one of which appears to be Ryan co-defendant Larry Warner.

We learn in the story that James also sketched "a very disgruntled-looking Ryan" but the paper doesn't show us that one.

A better use of space than "INSIDE THE RYAN JURY ROOM" would have been a James sketch gallery, don't you think?

Finger-Pointing: Not only that, but Scott Fornek of the Sun-Times does a better job with the Blago-Topinka reaction story than the Tribune in the way he describes the deployment of Blagojevich's obviously well-massaged talking point about how it is "sad and unfortunate that the finger-pointing has begun blah blah blah."

Fornek notes that in a six-minute talk with reporters, the governor managed to use the finger-pointing phrase four times.

Unappealing Appeal: Most legal experts seem to agree that Ryan's chances to win an appeal, even given the jury problems, is slim. But then, most legal experts didn't foresee a jury finding Ryan guilty on all counts.

Daley's Dreck: Mayor Richard M. Daley is either utterly incapable of reflective thought and having an actual conversation with reporters or he is starring in the longest-running in-your-face media-avoidance campaign in political history.

And it's not cute or quirky. It's disrespectul, patronizing, and demeaning to you, the citizen.

Raggedy Andy: I saw part of Daley's statement to the media on Channel 7 last night, and what I saw was an uptight, sweaty mayor with eyes darting around. But when the station cut back to political reporter Andy Shaw, Shaw said that "The mayor seems to have his confidence back."

Daley Disappearing: It would have been nice if this story made clear whether the mayor planned this trip before the Sorich trial was scheduled.

Party Time: The national media forgets that Ryan is a Republican.

- via The So-Called Austin Mayor Blog

Blind Backers: Rob Warden was back on Channel 2 last night using Ulysses S. Grant as an example (remembered for winning the Civil War, not his alcohol-wracked presidency) of why Ryan's legacy will be the death penalty moratorium, not his conviction for turning the state government into a criminal enterprise.

(In the report, Republican consultant Dan Proft in turn called Ryan "a convicted felon, and a particularly remorseless one at that.")

Defense lawyer and anti-death penalty activist Andrea Lyon is featured in Carol Marin's column today saying, "I do not believe [Ryan] is a criminal and conspirator."

Let's give Ryan the benefit of the doubt for a moment that his death penalty moratorium was sincere, and had nothing to do with trying to gain sympathy from a future jury, even though that's exactly what he did.

Why is it so hard to fathom that a man could believe that a broken system that may be responsible for putting innocent people to death should end and also believe that there is nothing wrong with using public office to enrich your friends and grease the wheels of government? And that one has nothing to do with the other?

In Today's Reporter
Don Jacobson's new installment of Chicago In Song tackles Chicago lyrical references in selections by a dream bill of George Jones, the Misfits, Cheap Trick, and the Marshall Tucker Band.

Only in The Beachwood Reporter.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Like a movie that has yet to start shooting.


Posted on April 19, 2006

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