Broken news: The Tribune's epic failure to cover the strike by its own newsroom
& stop calling the newspaper vandalism at Northwestern a "parody"
2-8-2024 (issue No. 127)
News and Views — On the protest vandalism of The Daily Northwestern, Biden’s decision not to participate in a pre-Super Bowl interview, the lack of “harmony” at the Grammys and more
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Squaring up the news — Where Charlie Meyerson tells readers where to go
Mary Schmich — On the first time she saw Chicago
What’s on “The Mincing Rascals” podcast this week — A sharp disagreement on the value of an elected school board and much more
Quotables — Includes Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson’s account of his conversation with God
Re:Tweets — The winning visual tweet and this week’s contest finalists
Good Sports — Or bad sports, as the case may be. Chicago teams are dismal
Tune of the Week — John Prine’s “Only Love” will do for Valentine’s Day
Eric Zorn is a former opinion columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Find a longer bio and contact information here. This issue exceeds in size the maximum length for a standard email. To read the entire issue in your browser, click on the headline link above. Paid subscribers receive each Picayune Plus in their email inbox each Tuesday, are part of our civil and productive commenting community and enjoy the sublime satisfaction of supporting this enterprise.
All the news that fits (their corporate agenda), the Tribune prints
Below, via Google News, is a sampling of the coverage that local media afforded last Thursday’s one-day walkout by unionized members of the Chicago Tribune newsroom.
Conspicuously missing from the links was anything from the Tribune itself, which, as of Wednesday, had made no mention of the walkout, which was prompted by frustration over five years of stalled contract talks, the plan to end 401k matching contributions and the lack of cost-of-living raises.
The omission inspired me to write an email to Executive Editor Mitch Pugh and Managing Editor Phil Jurik:
I find it beyond curious that the Tribune didn't make any mention of the Guild walkout last Thursday. It was the first such strike in Chicago history and a story that every other major media outlet in town covered. And one that would be of particular interest to Tribune readers (always the justification for congratulatory coverage when the paper wins prizes).
Other papers have covered their own walkouts — the LA Times and Washington Post for instance. One of your corporate sister papers, the Orlando Sentinel, ran a powerful column on the strike by columnist Scott Maxwell.
What went into the decision to ignore this story — which, I might add, was alluded to in every week-in-review show I heard? How do you square the decision with the ostensible mission of a newspaper to report the news without fear or favor?
Neither responded to this email, which I sent twice.
I highlighted the Orlando Sentinel column — “Newspapers are in rough shape. Let us tell you why we stay” — in Tuesday’s Picayune Plus. Scott Maxwell wrote that Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns the Sentinel as part of Tribune Publishing Co., “has shown as much indifference to its employees as it has loyal subscribers, jacking up prices, providing unreliable delivery and maddening customer service without direct access to people in this community.”
Tribune investigative reporter Gregory Royal Pratt took to Twitter to voice his displeasure:
I’m disappointed in my (Chicago Tribune), which has historically taken pride in covering news involving the paper. Looks like our editors chose to ignore yesterday’s historic strike. That’s a real shame. … Reporters organized with ~240 colleagues around the country for a historic walkout. We demand a fair contract. We are tired of the company’s games and disrespect. And management can’t ignore what’s happening at our newspapers, even if they try. … Newsroom used to have a framed front page from our 2008 bankruptcy that also featured a vital investigation. The point was, we don’t shy from news about our company. The editors and Alden failed that test.
Neither Pugh nor Jurik nor anyone else on the masthead offered a response on the social media channels I follow. The only peep I heard from the nonunion side of the Tribune was from Steve Daniels, the newest member of the Editorial Board, when host Paris Schutz asked him about the strike on WTTW-Ch. 11’s “Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review.”
Well, I think, really, from the Editorial Board’s perch, I mean, these are our colleagues, right? These are the people who make the paper go. And that's about what we can say; how much we appreciate them. And apart from that, it's difficult for us, where we sit, to weigh in on this in particular (subject). But we certainly want to convey how much we value our colleagues.
But is it really difficult to report the news and take a stand for fairness? For a newspaper that ostensibly takes pride in reporting fairly on the news it feels is most relevant to its readers to cover a story that does not reflect well on its corporate overlords? For an Editorial Board that regularly thunders about the value of transparency and honesty?
This abdication of basic journalistic responsibility is a violation of the trust readers place in the Tribune. The failure to report on the strike — even in a photo caption — and to put it in the context of the larger challenges facing legacy media, signals that the interests of hedge fund vultures is shaping news coverage.
It also fuels the impression, rampant on social media yet generally false, that mainstream media outlets are agenda-driven, not guided by a commitment to the truth. Ignoring a major local story to please the ownership in New York City — which seems to have happened here — is not a way to inspire confidence in consumers
Now, will the one-day strike make any difference? Almost certainly not. I’ve seen no indication that Alden frets about its reputation or has any particular interest in journalism aside from its income potential. They can put out a newspaper with wire copy and photos along with the work of nonunion freelancers and interns for as long as it takes to put down a staff uprising.
But which side are their supervisors on?
Last week’s winning tweet
The main cause of immigration is that we're still a country people want to come to. But we're working on fixing that. — @InternetHippo
News & Views
News: Charges dropped against students accused of putting out a phony front page of the Northwestern student newspaper
View: Criminal charges against the perpetrators were not appropriate, I agree. But those who dismissed the effort by pro-Palestinian advocates as a mere “parody” and a simple exercise of First Amendment rights overlook that it was an attempt to fool the reading public by taking advantage of the good reputation of The Daily Northwestern — a crappy thing to do no matter what your cause.
From the Tribune:
On Oct. 25, students on campus could find a single-page flyer that looked similar to the popular student-run newspaper with the headline “Northwestern complicit in genocide of Palestinians” printed across its lower third.
A court filing accused the two men of attaching “an unauthorized replica of the Daily Northwestern Newspaper” to a previously distributed edition and placing copies in the newspaper stand.
Sure, the name of the publication is reversed — “The Northwestern Daily” instead of “The Daily Northwestern.” But considering the nearly identical typefaces and the fact that the unauthorized replica was slipped into newspaper stands to masquerade as real Daily Northwesterns, the product was analogous to the fake Joe Biden robocalls placed to New Hampshire voters before that state’s primaries encouraging Democrats not to vote.
Whether you approve of the message or not, the bogus front page was an attempted deception that stood to damage or at least distort the paper’s reputation.
“No one was meaningfully harmed as a result of this.” said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. But that doesn’t make it right or the equivalent of a simple protest sign or flyer.
Michael Jordan wasn’t “meaningfully harmed” when a supermarket chain used his name and jersey number in a 2009 magazine ad congratulating him on his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but a jury awarded MJ $8.9 million in damages on grounds that the chain had exploited his name and likeness.
“The Northwestern Daily” was not a prank, not free speech in action and not a parody, which is the term for over-the-top imitations with comic intent. It was vandalism.
Not serious enough to prosecute, I agree, but also not something to condone or laugh off.
News: The Democratic candidates in the Cook County state’s attorney’s primary will face off in a debate today (Thursday).
View: OK, I’m ready to pay attention now. This race — between former prosecutor Clayton Harris III and retired Illinois Appellate Court Judge Eileen O'Neill Burke — has not been on my personal radar yet, but this race and the binding “Bring Chicago Home” referendum on increasing the real estate transfer tax on higher-end properties, will be the big stories the night of March 19, a little under six weeks from now.
The debate will stream at 7 p.m. on abc7chicago.com and be broadcast Friday at 10:35 p.m. on WLS-Ch. 7.
News: Joe Biden declines to participate in the traditional pre-Super Bowl presidential interview for the second year in a row.
View: I don’t care for this tradition, but Biden’s refusal to take advantage of the offer of free airtime in front of tens of millions of viewers is an ominous sign that his campaign team thinks he’ll make some gaffe that will dominate the headlines, one that the voting public may take as an indication that he’s not up for another four years in the White House.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday twice referred to the late German chancellor Helmut Kohl instead of former Chancellor Angela Merkel while detailing a 2021 conversation at campaign events. … Speaking at an event in North Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sunday, Biden confused François Mitterrand, the former French president who died in 1996, for French President Emmanuel Macron in retelling an encounter with the French leader at a summit during his first year in office.
Donald Trump, who is similarly if not more gaffe prone, took a pass on the interview in 2018 when he didn’t want to parry with NBC’s Lester Holt, and CBS has reportedly rejected his offer to take Biden’s place Sunday.
News: Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs shared the stage at the Grammy Awards Sunday night to sing Chapman’s 1988 hit “Fast Car.”
View: It was a magical moment, but I was puzzled by how the two sang in unison rather than harmony on the chorus. To me, it felt like a missed opportunity to put a new vibe into an old song that Combs faithfully re-created for his hit version, and on Facebook, I noted the inaccuracy of the New York Times’ headline, “Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs Gave America a Rare Gift: Harmony” as well as the writer’s line, “They traded a few lines and harmonized beautifully on the chorus.”
The fuss in the comments under that post prompted former Sun-Times pop music critic Don McLeese to write, “I don’t think I have ever seen a thread that is more Facebooky than this one.”
Some argued that I was being too pedantic and literal in my interpretation of the word “harmony,” and that the reference was to the Black, LGBTQ idol Chapman singing with a white country star in a way that stuffed a sock in the mouths of the online trolls who interpreted Combs’ success as a slight to Chapman.
I wrote about that controversy over the summer when Combs’ “Fast Car” cover became a country hit, and I featured both Chapman’s version and his in the Tune of the Week section of the Picayune Sentinel.
Sure, I get that the Times writer was groping for a metaphor. But I’m a proud pedant and “unity” would have been a far better word for the headline under the circumstances, and the claim in the story that the duo “harmonized beautifully on the chorus” was simply wrong.
Others on Facebook argued that the song doesn’t lend itself to harmony or is more powerful when sung in unison, views I don’t share but concede are matters of musical taste.
Others wrote that they had the same question while watching the broadcast and wondered if a lack of rehearsal time inspired the decision to sing in unison.
Surprising and disappointing me were those who wrote that asking the question was an obtuse effort to ruin the moment. I yield to no one when it comes to tossing wet blankets, but this wasn’t such an attempt, and I’m sorry-not-sorry if asking a reasonable question about musical choices harshed anyone’s mellow.
News: Politico reports that, behind closed doors, President Joe Biden refers to Donald Trump as a “sick fuck” who delights in others’ misfortunes, and as “a fucking asshole.”
View: What Biden may not realize is that Trump’s supporters see these truths as features, not bugs.
News: “Jussie Smollett asks Illinois Supreme Court to overturn his conviction for lying about hate crime attack”
View: Even I, one who has ridden the high horse on this crazy story for more than five years, am ready to let this matter drop and call things even.
In January 2019, Smollett claimed he was attacked by two men who beat him, poured bleach on him and hung a thin rope noose around his neck. The story quickly became national news, particularly in light of Smollett’s claims that his attackers made remarks indicating they were supporters of President Trump.
The story quickly fell apart, however, and he was charged a month later. (Sun Times)
The former “Empire” actor lied to police then lied under oath on the witness stand, but his reputation and once-promising career are in shambles. Justice has been served. Jail time at this point would be piling on.
Land of Linkin’
WGN-AM 720 host John Williams’ listeners have selected the best joke of 2023 in a bracket tournament. Finalists were culled from Williams’ daily “Speed Jokes” feature.
Chicago Magazine interviews author Eric Klinenberg about his new book on COVID-19 in New York City, "2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed,” calling it “both a social autopsy of the institutions that broke down during the pandemic and the story of seven people who lived through it.” Klinenberg’s 2002 book “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago” is the definitive account of how the July 1995 heat wave claimed more than 700 lives in Chicago.
“Illegal bribe or legitimate ‘gratuity’: How a $13,000 payment to an Indiana mayor could alter political corruption cases in Chicago” is a must-read backgrounder from the Tribune’s Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau and the Post-Tribune’s Amy Lavalley on a U.S. Supreme Court case that could end up allowing for all kinds of sleazy behavior by politicians, as long as they make sure the quid comes after the quo, so to speak.
“The long decline of Macy’s in Chicago, now a shell of a once-great department store,” by Lynn Becker of the Sun-Times. “Macy’s is the dinosaur who ate up all the other animals in a survival-of the-fittest, bigger-is-better rampage, only to discover it’s now too stupid and lumbering to survive.”
“Bally’s: Is there something fishy along the river? Professional gamblers are laughing at Bally’s inept roll of the dice to launch its casino in Chicago.” Veteran local real-estate writer Don DeBat explains the case in Loop North News that the casino/entertainment complex set to be built on the River West site currently occupied by the Chicago Tribune printing plant will be an epic failure.
Squaring up the news
This is a bonus supplement to the Land of Linkin’ from veteran radio, internet and newspaper journalist Charlie Meyerson. Each week, he offers a selection of intriguing links from his daily email news briefing Chicago Public Square:
■ “I wuz robbed”: Author and tech pioneer Cory Doctorow explains how a phone-phisher scammed him out of “$8,000+ worth of fraud … before I figured out what happened. And then he tried to do it again, a week later! … The thing is, I know a lot about fraud. I’m writing an entire series of novels about this kind of scam.”
■ Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg: Mayor Johnson’s passage of a resolution calling for a Mideast ceasefire is not “the most antisemitic moment in Chicago mayoral history. Not even close.”
■ Ex-Tribune and Sun-Times editor Mark Jacob runs down a list of annoying phrases reporters should abandon.
■ Illinois has a new official highway map—on recycled paper!—and you can get one free.
■ Honda’s recalling three-quarters-of-a-million cars to fix faulty airbag sensors.
■ “You know like when people are excited when a duck and a horse are friends? Well, for the record, I was the duck.” A tearful and notably liberal Stephen Colbert recounted his friendship with musically and politically conservative country music star Toby Keith, who’s dead at 62—after a career that included singing satire on 2008’s “A Colbert Christmas.”
You can (and should) subscribe to Chicago Public Square free here.
Best celebrity ad read ever
Near the end of a recent episode of the hit podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” the former late-night talk host read a commercial for Luxe Bidet and had everyone in the recording studio weeping with laughter at his indignation:
Mary Schmich: The first time I saw Chicago
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is her most recent offering:
The photo with this post is, obviously, of Chicago. I took it Saturday while I was out for a walk. I’ve seen this view thousands and thousands of times by now, and it still makes me stop and stare and marvel.
And remember the moment I first saw it.
It was 1985. One day, when I was living in Orlando, the phone at my Orlando Sentinel desk rang. The caller was an editor for the Chicago Tribune: Would I like to come interview for a job in Chicago? I plucked my Rand McNally atlas from the row of books on my desk and traced my finger from Florida all the way up to the bottom of a big lake.
Chicago? Huh. Pretty far north. I’d never owned a coat.
The editor told me I’d be staying at a hotel called The Drake. (Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.) I came in at night in a cab from O’Hare and didn’t have a clue where I was or, in the dark, exactly what I was seeing. The next morning, I put on my running clothes—sleeveless top, short shorts—and went down to the front desk. Was there somewhere I could go running?
The desk clerk warily eyed my skimpy clothes. This was April. I didn’t know April in Orlando was not April in Chicago.
The clerk told me to go outside and there would be an underpass that took me to a running path along the lake. So I trotted out. Damn, it was cold. But I found the underpass, emerged on the lakefront—and started to hyperventilate.
The roar of rush hour on Lake Shore Drive! The size of that lake! And damn it was cold.
And then I turned around. What I saw almost knocked me down. That city. I’d never seen anything like it. The height of it. The mass of it. The beautiful brutishness.
I was terrified.
I ran five miles. Went to the interview. Got the job.
And all these years later, this view still takes my breath away.
Marj Halperin, Cate Plys and I joined host John Williams for this week’s episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast. Along with our usual run through the intriguing news stories of the week, we kicked off our own Oscar season by scoring “Barbie” on John’s scale of 1 to 23 Jujubes.
Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can hear an edited version of the show at 8 p.m. most Saturday evenings on WGN-AM 720.
When newspapers shed journalists, some political operatives cheer. Last week, that included some of those who work for Ron DeSantis who tweeted about “Celebrating the firing of 115 Los Angeles Times employees.” That’s certainly their right. But let me tell you who also cheers whenever local journalist positions are cut? Bad guys. Corrupt politicians. Greasy lobbyists. Predators. Evil thrives when there’s no spotlight shining. — Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel
Look, I’m a Southern Baptist. I don’t want to get too spooky on you, OK? But the Lord speaks to your heart. And he had been speaking to me about this. The Lord told me very clearly to prepare and be ready. Be ready for what? OK, I don't know. “We're coming to a Red Sea moment.” “What does that mean, Lord?” And then when the speaker's race happened, and Kevin McCarthy, who's a dear friend of mine, was deposed — vacated from the chair. Oh, wow. Well, this is what the Lord may have been preparing us for. And so I started praying more about that. And then the Lord began to wake me up through this three-week process we're in — in the middle of night — and to speak to me and to write things down, plans and procedures and ideas on how we could pull the conference together. Now at the time, I assumed the Lord is going to choose a new Moses, and, “Oh, thank you Lord, you're gonna allow me to be Aaron to Moses."And so I worked to get Steve Scalise elected speaker. That didn't happen. And then Jim Jordan, who's like another big brother of mine. No, that didn't happen. And Tom Emmer. And, you know, ultimately 13 people ran for the post, and the Lord kept telling me to “Wait, wait, wait,” so I waited, I waited and then, at the end, when it came to the end, the Lord said, “Now step forward.” “Me? I'm supposed to be Aaron.” “No,” the Lord said. “Step forward.” — Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson addressing the National Association of Christian Lawmakers.
Keep doing what Trump tells you to, congressional Republicans. It’s working out great. So much winning. — Mark Jacob
Motherfucking traitors, — former Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council under Donald Trump Alexander Vindman to the House Republican caucus for its failure to approve aid to Ukraine.
The Russians thought they would have to wait for Trump’s presidency in order for the U.S. aid to Ukraine to stop, but now they’re getting the same gift through his servile Republican proxies, and Ukrainians are paying for this despicable political game with their lives. — Julie Davis, Daily Beast columnist
Calling out the tough guy who wants to spar
I posted this Tuesday afternoon:
My link in the above image is to this lengthy takedown, which I post only when John Kass starts bleating his pathetic, self-serving, destructive lies about how and why he left the Tribune, fabrications meant to undermine his former colleagues and the institution that propped him up for decades. Hundreds of clicks on my post each time, and Kass just sputters at me in response.
By Thursday at 12:10 a.m. he had not responded to my challenge. But I’ll keep you posted.
In Tuesday’s paid-subscriber editions, I present my favorite tweets that rely on visual humor. Subscribers vote for their favorite, and I post the winner here every Thursday:
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
Please pray for my husband. He’s fine, but I told him not to get me anything for Valentine’s Day. — @VisionBored1
Exoskeleton: How a skeleton signs a Valentine’s Day card. — @rebrafsim
Feb 14 is for lovers. Feb 15 is for lovers of hаlf-price cаndy. — @sarahedwig
Annual reminder not to fall for heart shaped pizza. It's less pizza. — @amandajpanda
Happy Valentine’s Day to my wife, who often compares me to Ryan Gosling. She says: "You're nothing like Ryan Gosling.” — @ItsAndyRyan
We need a female reboot of Cupid who shoots men with arrows that make them leave women the hell alone. — @OhNoSheTwitnt
It’s that time of year again where I go to random restaurants to tell random women, “So this is why you cancelled our date” while they’re with their significant others. — @ilovepie84
Save money this Valentine's Day by being unlovable. — @Sorrowscopes
Want to say something sweet and romantic on Valentine's Day? Tell your kids not to call their mom “bruh.” — @meantomyself
Ladies, if he's possessive, confusing and never where he's supposed to be, he's not your man. He's an apostrophe. — @ItsAndyRyan
Vote here and check the current results in the poll.
Usage note: To me, “tweet” has become a generic term for a short post on social media.
For instructions and guidelines regarding the poll, click here.
An unidentified collector paid $8 million at auction for a set of shoes that Michael Jordan wore when the Bulls won their NBA championships — one shoe each from the last games in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. It makes me wonder: Are sports memorabilia collectors more or less nutty than art collectors in how they spend their money on what amounts to fetish objects? I’m not insensible to sentimental value, but a bunch of mismatched shoes?
It sure looks like the Chicago Sky is going to join the ranks of really lousy local pro sports teams after having gone 18-22 last season and now parting ways with the team’s best player:
With the news Tuesday that the team was trading franchise player Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury, it became clear that the Sky are heading in a new direction, but they lack a compass. — Annie Costabile, Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago will never get to see what was supposed to come next — and that in itself is a heartbreak for Sky fans, who experienced the rare phenomenon of watching a player grow into herself over the better part of a decade. And whether it was a necessity or a misstep, this decision will define the new front office as coach Teresa Weatherspoon builds her vision of the Sky. — Julia Poe, Chicago Tribune
How much mediocrity can one city stand?
The Bulls are sitting at 24-27 and the Blackhawks are 14-37 after Wednesday night’s loss to the nearly as lowly Minnesota Wild (reader, I attended my first Blackhawks game!) The Bears went 7-10 last season. The White Sox went 61-101. In soccer, the Chicago Fire FC. a men’s team, went 10-14 with 10 ties. and the Chicago Red Stars, a women’s team, went 7-12-3. Only the Cubs, at a middlin’ 83-79, had a winning season.
Tune of the Week
In advance of Valentine’s Day next Wednesday, I’m featuring “Only Love,” a deep cut from the catalog of the late John Prine.
Prine shared songwriting credit with Roger Cook and Sandy Mason. In 1982, Don Williams was the first to record the song, followed shortly by Johnny Cash. Both versions are peppier than Prine’s more lugubrious, sentimental rendition.
Only love, love only, only love Will do Only love, love only, only love Comes true Nothing else, you see, there nothing else Only love, only love
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