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The Problem With @MayorEmanuel

Dan Sinker meeting Rahm Emanuel yesterday was a bit like a local version of Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon: A WTF moment for the history books.

But it also illustrated just what was wrong with Sinker's sometimes brilliant, sometimes predictable, sometimes vulgar, sometimes prescient fake Twitter feed: It was all the time sympathetic to its "target."

Sinker merely burnished the myth of a foul-mouthed pragmatist with little patience for pageantry who just wanted to "get things done" instead of doing what truly effective political satire does: reveal the truths behind the propaganda and manufactured media narratives.

Rahm Emanuel is a nasty man, but not as charmingly so as Sinker portrayed him. He and his buddy David Axelrod are kings of media manipulation, not doltish road trip buddies cranking Journey in Ax's Civic.

And that's why Jim DeRogatis's criticism of Sinker is valid, despite the rush of fanboys and fangirls rushing to Sinker's defense. It seems a whole lot of people have forgotten what this is all about - we live in a city decimated by poverty that has failed its most needy as well as its middle-class and we just had a campaign in which the winner did everything he could not to talk about those sorts of things - or anything.

But a lot of comfortable folks sure got a good laugh out of a Twitter feed not available to 40 percent of the city on the other side of the digital divide.

Meanwhile, real reporting about Emanuel's rich record was largely absent. That goes to the heart of DeRogatis's complaint, and I concur.


"In the end, you might as well have endorsed the guy," DeRogatis writes in "Dan Sinker: You Call This The New Journalism?"

It's not that DeRogatis doesn't have a sense of humor, though most examples of Sinker's tweets repeated in the press the last few months are his most exceedingly unfunny ones.

"Sure, we all laughed at the gloriously inane, poetically obscene Tweets," DeRogatis writes. "[But] this is what all those years of serious and sometimes groundbreaking investigative stories, interviews, commentaries, and chats with Noam Chomsky in Punk Planet have come to: conspiring with a celebrity politician to make him look 'even cooler' than his already immaculately crafted image, and to hell with that sticky, troublesome business of digging, probing, exposing, and reporting?"

To bolster his argument, DeRogatis cites one of Sinker's journalism students telling the Tribune that "I would have voted for [Emanuel] just because of that fake Twitter account."


"Harsh?" DeRogatis writes. "Heck, yeah! But Sinker just popped up as the lead story on Monday's 9 p.m. Fox newscast, cheerfully being interviewed in his living room and providing 'B roll' of himself sitting there typing away on his Apple laptop, and the piece ended with him bragging about how he's eager to meet the mayor-elect, at Emanuel's request, some time in the next few days. Said Sinker (paraphrasing here but the quote is almost exact): I really just want to say 'hi.'"

Unlike many reporters on the campaign trail - and off it - Sinker was granted some face time with Emanuel that provided the incoming mayor with yet another invaluable photo op showing what a great guy he was. Apparently Sinker didn't mind being a prop.

From the Tribune's account:

"Hi, honey, I'm home,' the mayor-elect said as he extended his hand to Dan Sinker, the 36-year-old Columbia College journalism assistant professor whose @MayorEmanuel Twitter account became an online sensation before its anonymous author sent his protagonist into the cosmos the day after Emanuel was elected mayor. "Relax, man."

"I am so not relaxed," Sinker said with a laugh, the cheeks above his pointy salt-and-pepper beard having turned beet-red.

"You have tenure," Emanuel quipped. "Don't worry about it. I already called it in."

Ha ha ha! I'm glad everyone's having such a great time.

I would have preferred, though, if Sinker had thought of something, um, journalistic to say. After all, he's a journalism professor. He might have asked Rahm, for example, why he refuses to answer DeRogatis's questions about his ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation.

Or how he could possibly morally justify not realigning police beats so cops are assigned to where the crime is occurring.

Or about the Chicago Reporter's findings that 56 percent of the African-American population in our fair city is out of work.

Or if he's interested in learning who hired Angelo Torres; or if he thinks Richard M. Daley is responsible in any way for Jon Burge.

Or about the findings - overshadowed by news of a fake Twitter author being revealed - of his Columbia colleagues that "Of the $1.2 billion designated for private sector projects since 2000, nearly half was earmarked for some of the area's most profitable corporations."

Instead, Sinker yukked it up with one of the most shadowy political operators of our time.

Emanuel offered career advice to Sinker, noting that the Twitter feed "$#*! My Dad Says" became a book and TV series. "I want you to think larger and bigger for yourself," Emanuel said. He also referenced his brother, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment CEO Ari Emanuel: "I have an agent for you in Hollywood so I can get my $5,000 back."

Afterward, the TV cameras surrounded the mayor-elect in the hallway while Sinker slipped quietly into the green room and exhaled. Was this how he envisioned his meeting with the actual Emanuel?

"He was funnier than I expected," Sinker said.

Yay! Go Rahm! Such a funny guy.


Those defending Sinker from DeRogatis's attack are bundled up in contradictions - and depressing notions of what constitutes journalism. Here, for example, is a representative sampling of the comments they left on DeRogatis's blog.

anonymous: Dan isn't trying to be a 'hard hitting journalist' he is trying to be funny. The reality is that he was very funny and many people enjoyed what he did with @MayorEmanuel. As for your "hard hitting" questions about Emanuel's connections to businesses, his background dodginess, and all round eyebrow raising connections you can look no further. He is part of the Machine, maybe you have heard of it? You seriously expect the Machine to respond to your questions? Maybe you live in some alternate universe version of Chicago?

In other words, why practice journalism at all? Let's all just sit back and enjoy the show. It's no use trying to report.

cc: Dude, really? Lighten up. This guy taught us to remember to enjoy ourselves while watching the circus. And since when is satire not considered a valid form of journalism?

Yes, we often forget to enjoy ourselves watching the circus. You know, the circus that determines if some people have something to eat, a place to sleep, medical care and safety from gangs and guns. C'mon, lighten up! It's just an election! Plus, Sinker was performing journalism!

Emily Culbertson: Dan did not sit out this election as a journalist. He created the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, which aggregated the latest news, cash, polling and social media content for all of the candidates. It may not be what you want out of journalism for a mayor's race, but it *is* journalism, and to double down on Dan's lack of effort towards the mayor's race without mentioning it is unfair. Check it out here:

I checked it out and I fail to see how it is even remotely useful. Aggregation can be part of journalism, but it isn't journalism per se.


And then the "professionals" weighed in.

"DeRogatis does Sinker a disservice to ignore his other projects, like, where he posts a different fictional tale daily, to be read on mobile devices," the A.V. Club's Marah Eakin writes. "Sinker is not, as that commenter points out, one thing only - a journalist - any more than the rest of us are defined by our jobs alone."

First, delivering fiction to cell phones isn't journalism either. Second, when you are a journalist you are always a journalist. You aren't allowed to go home at the end of the day and, for example, work for a campaign - or even contribute to one.

"[T]hat Twitter account," Eakin continues, "proved that this city does have a sense of humor about itself. Chicagoans aren't constantly jealous of New York or crying over the Cubs. We like beer and jokes and think our pizza's pretty great. We're also ridiculous as a city sometimes with our corruption and faults and silly Blagojeviches. We know it, and that's totally okay."

Dan Sinker proved "we" have a sense of humor! We think our pizza's pretty great.

I guess we think our Rahm is pretty great too.


Michael Miner's blog post in the Reader is even more bizarre.

"Because there is the Internet, more gets written than should be," he begins.

What? I didn't know there were limits on how much expression ought to be allowed.

"Jim DeRogatis's critique of MayorEmanuel has the earmarks of a topic of the day addressed out of obligation by someone with a blog to feed."

It does? DeRogatis was just trying to meet a quota? Doubtful.

"DeRogatis cooked up an argument that I doubt he'll remember himself later this week."

Now you're just projecting, Michael.

I have no doubt that DeRogatis's argument was heartfelt; he's a former investigative reporter who has a passion for journalism and an interest in its future. Not so sure I can say the same anymore for Miner.

"DeRogatis took the tack that a serious journalist had sunk to shameful depths. He marveled, 'This is what all those years of serious and sometimes groundbreaking investigative stories, interviews, commentaries, and chats with Noam Chomsky in Punk Planet have come to: conspiring with a celebrity politician to make him look 'even cooler' than his already immaculately crafted image, and to hell with that sticky, troublesome business of digging, probing, exposing, and reporting?'

"This is what Sinker's career has come to? Imagine Superman, after saving the world all day, flying home to his Fortress of Solitude and taking a leak. Is that leak, that mindless micturation, what his day has come to? 'Not exactly,' Superman might explain, 'but it was a pleasure.'"

That analogy would only hold true if Superman came home from a day saving the world from Urine Man, whose evil designs were fueled by the properties he distilled from Superman's urine.

DeRogatis's larger point, it seems to me, is that Sinker was aiding and abetting the manufactured consent of Rahm Emanuel as our next mayor.


Alex Parker also weighed in for the Reader, calling Sinker's tweets "vital political satire."

Vital? Hardly. Satire? Not so much in my book. True satire exposes truths through humor. What truths were exposed by Sinker? That Rahm swears a lot?

"Sinker's use of @mayoremanuel doesn't disqualify it from being a vital part of public discourse," Parker continues.

So now I'm confused. First, we're not to take it seriously; it's not journalism, it's just entertainment. Now it's a vital part of our public discourse. Which is it? And in what way does it contribute to the discourse?

I wish Sinker's defenders would just say they found his project funny but never really thought about its political implications.


How over-the-top has the media coverage of @MayorEmanuel been?

"It ended a mystery as baffling and tantalizing to some Chicago journalists and political insiders as the identity of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's 'Deep Throat' had been to Watergate junkies a generation ago," Robert Feder writes at his Time Out Chicago blog.

That preposterous line seems to bolster two points I see in DeRogatis's argument. First, the problem isn't just Sinker's but the behavior of the media; indeed, it seems the local media hordes have been far more aggressive trying to score their own interview with Sinker as it ever was trying to get a straight answer about what Rahm did when he was on the board of Freddie Mac or how the Exelon merger he helped arrange for a fee of millions was good for consumers. (And, as DeRogatis points out, Sinker has gotten more media attention by far than Miguel del Valle ever did.)

Even the Tribune editorial board got behind @MayorEmanuel, despite the massive quantity of such un-Tribune-editorial-board-like tweets such as "Hey Chico, I would rather be endorsed by Ed Burke's cum rag than anyone connected with the motherfucking Chicago Public Schools" and "Fucking cum-fisted douche faucets."

Second, there seems to be an awful lot of confusion about just what constitutes journalism.

Take WGN-AM's Greg Jarrett (please). While interviewing DeRogatis on Wednesday, the utterly unserious Jarrett asked why DeRogatis couldn't "just do journalism your way and let him do it his way."

And which way would that be, exactly?


Even if Sinker's project was as groundbreaking as the giddy media says - and I doubt it is - it's not groundbreaking journalism; it's groundbreaking use of a social media tool. Not the same thing. Unfortunately, no one seems much interested in groundbreaking journalism these days. Instead, delivering fiction to cellphones is all the rage.

There was a nice piece of groundbreaking journalism that occurred during the campaign, however, while everyone was being distracted by talking ducks: Rebecca Zorach's Rahm Emanuel Notebook told us more about our new leader in each individual post than Sinker ever did.

Sure, she didn't have a Quaxelrod, but no one's perfect.


And if you want to see an example of true satire that works, go back and take a look at Chicagoans For Rio (if you can find it; link no longer works but it must be somewhere).

You can beat creator Kevin Lynch wasn't welcome for a photo op with Richard M. Daley.


Finally, Lill McGill sent me this word cloud of @MayorEmanuel: Case closed.


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 3, 2011

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - COVID Bowl Toteboard.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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