My turn to be a Chicago media critic

And why not? My experience as a Chicago journalist is long and varied. It dates back to 1965 when I was hired by the late lamented Chicago Daily News, starting out on the midnight shift (before women were allowed) writing about  crime. There I also was the urban affairs reporter and assistant financial editor. When the Daily News folded in 1978 I went to the Sun-Times as transportation reporter, later serving as science and technology writer, member of the editorial board and op-ed columnist. In 2000, the Tribune took me on as a contributing op-ed columnist. My 30 years of work as an op-ed columnist ended a couple of years ago, but now I'm busy writing occasional magazine articles and reviewing  and writing books in addition to writing this blog and whatever commercial writing jobs come along.

If my generally conservative outlook bothers some readers, I remind them that Chicago's long-time media critic, Michael Miner writing in the Chicago Reader, has a decidedly left-learning bent. Balance, you know.

So, let us begin:

Kudos to the Chicago Tribune's page 2 columnist John Kass for ripping new ones on Illinois Sen. Dick (bend with wind, follow the crowd) Durbin and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein for quizzing federal

Sen. Dick Durbin (Chicago Tribune)

Sen. Dick Durbin (Chicago Tribune)

appeals court judge nominee Amy Coney Barrett about her faith. "Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic, Durbin probed. "When we read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you," Feinstein pronounced. Of course, the real issue is whether Barrett's faith and its opposition to abortion will interfere with her role as a judge. Further exploration (e.g. in a Chicago Tribune editorial, "Durbin, Feinstein and Catholic judges") showed that Durbin and Feinstein were barking up the wrong tree.

Kass wrote two fine columns decrying the bigotry "Durbin, Democrats reveal their bigotry in questioning of judicial nominee from Notre Dame" and "Are you now, or have you ever been, a Christian?" (invoking the memory of the 1950s commie hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.)

I was somewhat let down, however, by the Tribune's editorial, unlike the usual, scorching treatments of the most deserving. Durbin and Feinstein stepped way over a clear constitutional restriction against using a person's faith as a criterion for federal office. This is dangerous stuff and the Chicago media should be applying more than a slap of the hand to Durbin. As  Wall Street Journal letter-to-the editor from a Chicago-area reader succinctly pointed out:

Regarding your editorial “Democrats and ‘Dogma’” (Sept. 8): Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin should recuse themselves from voting on Amy Barrett’s nomination. As senators they are sworn to uphold the Constitution, yet they are willing to disregard Article VI which clearly states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” [Emphasis added.]

Robert Seiler, Lincolnshire, Ill.

Thanks, Mr. Seiler. But you know that will be ignored. Take the case of the Associated Press, the main source of news for many publications. It ignored the story when it broke, but "recovered" it in a "second day" story. That's newspaper lingo to cover up the embarrassment or guilt for missing the main story, by getting "react" to the main story and featuring it in the lede.  in explains it well in his "AP offers reaction piece about the 'loud dogma' story that it didn't cover the first time around." So, did the AP think that a the originals story  was news or not?  The second day story answers the question.

Justice Sheila O'Brien

Justice Sheila O'Brien

Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, Sheila O’Brien,  a retired  Illinois Appellate Court justice and life-long Democrat and Durbin friend, wrote a fine op-ed, "Dear Dick Durbin, Her Catholic religion is none of your business" Your honor, you were courteous and friendly in your criticism, but he was deserving of a bigger blast.

I couldn't find much else in this vein in the Sun-Times (maybe I missed it; please point it out if I did) and that raised questions--maybe in my mind only-- about whether the paper's new ownership, headed by progressive ex-politician Edwin Eisendrath, is running the paper in an unbalanced direction. It's a fair question, since the same issue was vehemently raised when conservative Rupert Murdoch bought the liberal Sun-Times from the Field family.

Durbin being a local guy who occasionally stuffs his foot in his mouth, you'd think that his question might have raised a bigger raucous. Instead, the apathetic coverage only reflected the absence of national coverage in general. A Google search reveals that the bulk of the coverage comes from right-of-center media.

Garrison Keillor's bigotry

Speaking of religious bias,  I now turn to a Chicago Tribune op-ed by  predicting that "Eventually reality will catch up with [Donald Trump]." My view: It can't happen quick enough. But Keillor gives us his version of Hillary Clinton's Trump followers are "deplorables" as he explains:

[Trump] has stood in a cold rain for seven months, pretending the sun is shining, winning the

Garrison Keillor, with singer Heather Masse, stroll through the crowd before a live performance of "A Prairie Home Companion" at Ravinia Festival on June 11, 2016. (Andrew Johnston / Chicago Tribune)

Garrison Keillor, with singer Heather Masse, stroll through the crowd before a live performance of "A Prairie Home Companion" at Ravinia Festival on June 11, 2016. (Andrew Johnston / Chicago Tribune)

admiration of a shrinking bloc of barflies, bikers and Baptists, and now he is drinking bad water, and eventually reality will catch up with him. [Emphasis added.]

Substitute Muslims or Jews for Baptists and you get the point. Here's a logical construct: Some, but not all barflies, bikers and Baptists support Trump. Not all Trump supporters are barflies, bikers or Baptists. Maybe that's what he meant, but I doubt it. Equating Baptists with barflies and the image of Hell's Angels bikers is a slur that surprising raised no alarms at the Tribune or reaction from the progressive community that is so in tuned to offensive offensives.

The Tribune commentary section redeemed itself, however, with an informative, fact-based op-ed, Don't buy into all of that rosy PR about DACA. A worthwhile read that adds some perspective about the Dreamers.

Kenneka Jenkins

As loathe as I am to describe social media as media, we got another lesson about its dangerous routine via @KennekaJenkins Facebookof channelling irresponsible speculation into wild-ass conclusions before the facts emerge. Case in point is the tragic death of Kenneka Jenkins, the  19-year-old found dead alone in walk-in freezer. As the Sun-Times reported,

Activists chanting “No justice, no peace” and carrying signs calling for “Justice for Kenneka” marched down River Road near Balmoral, shutting down traffic in the busy entertainment district.

Wednesday evening, a police spokesman once again said Jenkins’ death was considered noncriminal and that there was “no credible evidence at this point” that would prompt police to reclassify Jenkins’ death as a murder.

That view has now been supported by an activist who was given access to hotel security tapes that show Ms. Jenkins entering the freezer on her own. Still more to come, I suspect.



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  • Criticism isn't praising fellow travelers. Maybe they didn't teach you the distinction in journalism school.

  • Well said, Dennis. Thanks for the comments -- and thanks for the reminders that I've been enjoying your work since long before Chicago Now. I hung unto my last copy of the Daily News for years; the loss of it was one of the first times I realized how much I wanted to be a writer.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thanks, Margaret. I still have a yellowed copy of the last CDN.

  • Come on, Dennis, what's a little hypocrisy among friends?

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    Feinstein/Durbin contention that Catholics/Christians can not be fair when deciding issues before them is disgusting....the line about possible finding against something (abortion?) that people worked hard to get into law? because laws/public policy never change? that attitude is why they are a bicoastal party

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