Should WTTW be renamed LTTL (Liberals talking to liberals)? Where’s the ideological balance?

That omission is not too surprising when you have your hired staff and management all drink from the same idea pool.  Looking out of the window to WTTW’s world, it appears to WTTW's staff that all right thinking individuals support abortion, gun control, same sex marriage, more government spending and higher taxes.  And married pols kissing their staffers on the lips? Why not? Welcome to the wonderful world of WTTW-- liberals talking to liberals.

Ideological balance on your dominant Chicago Public TV station? Not so much.


The dominant Public TV station in Chicago (WTTW) is acknowledged by almost everyone to be strongly left of center. Its primary  on air public affairs programming talent is left of center (Marin, Weisman, Ponce, Brackett and Arruza); Its producers are left of center. Its management is left of center. Its trustees are left of center.  One might find a few people wandering around WTTW who are right of center. But, not too far right, not many and certainly no one with much power to control content. No  one seriously disputes this. It must be the water in the cafeteria.

Yes, when it comes time to put together a panel of three, WTTW will usually make an attempt to locate someone slightly right of center to balance out two people on the far left. Almost never, of course, will you find two conservatives on a panel of three.

The WTTW management might tell you “There just aren’t many qualified conservatives to balance out the liberals.” Or, that the schools of journalism attract people “Who want change,” and “Conservatives don’t want change,” and that’s why WTTW can’t find conservative journalists to work for them or often, even conservative pundits to appear on WTTW. Crazy, but WTTW management appears to think, act and speak that way.

Tuesday night’s Chicago Tonight segment on the Democratic and Republican Party gubernatorial primaries

The nine minute public policy program segment on Tuesday night’s Chicago Tonight (August 20, 2013) was billed by WTTW correspondent Elizabeth Brackett as a discussion of “What would Kwame Raoul’s entry into the Democratic Gubernatorial Primary do to the candidacies of Pat Quinn and Bill Daley,” and “What’s going on with Republicans—the four main candidates are all within a few points of one another but no one has even 25% of the vote.”  So, were both topics covered in a fair and balanced way?

Not so much. Laura Washington used to complain that WTTW stood for Winnetka talking to Wilmette, as she perceived that WTTW did not have enough correspondents and panelists who focused on City of Chicago issues (instead of the North Shore) and Laura thought the guests and panelists themselves were from the “Lily white suburbs,” not minorities from the City.

I think Laura would agree her old complaint has now been addressed.  The station has hired a bunch of minorities (a number of whom have already left the station for better opportunities) over the last decade, has a steady stream of minority panelists and the station has become City of Chicago centric in coverage. And, now, it is Republicans and conservatives who are, with some regularity, given short shrift. This past Tuesday night’s so- called public policy segment was one such example.

Liberals talking to Liberals

Both Laura Washington and Eric Zorn are card carrying liberals. Both are opinion journalists whose views skew far left. Moderator Elizabeth Brackett may be closer to the center, but no one thinks she has pulled as many, if any, Republican primary ballots over the years as Democratic primary ballots. Elizabeth Brackett, like other correspondents at WTTW, is a fine journalist, who I am sure makes a strong effort to be balanced. But, by virtue of  WTTW management’s actions that have skewed the station left, it is easy for Brackett and her WTTW colleagues to host, all too often, shows that are biased to the left.

So, Brackett ends up talking on Tuesday night to a panel of two far left journalists, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington and Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn [Of course, both Zorn and Washington are excellent opinion journalists, and Zorn, in particular, will deviate from the “Party line,” more than many opinion journalists—but make no mistake, like Washington, Zorn is on the left.] Of course, it is not the job of Washington and Zorn to produce balance in their panel discussion. That’s the role of WTTW management.

Who produced the left of center Chicago Tonight on Tuesday night? Why does WTTW consistently skew left? 

But Brackett does have the power, I would hope, as segment moderator, to veto unbalanced panels that might be presented to her by line producers.  So, how does she agree to have two lefty panelists? How does she agree to divide the program segment to be eight minutes on the Democratic Primary and one minute on the Republican Primary? That can’t really be viewed as fair, right?

And, what exactly is moderator Brackett moderating? A discussion between two strong liberals of slightly different stripes who bring essentially the same perspective to the program segment. Doesn't this segment contradict WTTW's value, as stated in its 2012 Strategic Plan, that "Our content... reflects the diversity of perspectives..."  Washington and Zorn-- a diversity of perspectives? Are you kidding me?

Management might point out that the great majority of WTTW’s viewers are left, so shouldn’t its programs skew left. But that would be a silly response. WTTW’s viewers might be largely left because their programming is largely left. WTTW, which would benefit from more viewers, could expand its audience significantly if it stopped ignoring the right side of the political spectrum when it hired staff and produced its programs.

Does WTTW focus on the horse race? And racial characteristics?

Moreover, the whole thrust of the program segment on Tuesday was not about policy—it was all about the horse race. Isn’t public TV supposed to focus on public policy issues? Not so much at WTTW.   Further, the presumption by Brackett, Washington and Zorn was that if Raoul could become a factor in the race, it was in large part because he is a black guy.

Laura Washington is viewed by many as the pundit in town with the most insight into racial issues. She told the WTTW viewers that Bill Daley, because of his brother Mayor Richard Daley, has a bad name in the black community, so Billie doesn’t have many black votes to lose. But, Quinn, who sprinkles state patronage among black legislators, if not the black citizenry, has a lot to lose if African-American State Senator Kwame Raoul gets in the race. Many of  those black legislators who “Quinn has bought,” will be sort of forced by black peer pressure, think Washington and Zorn, to go with Raoul.

Of idealism and spoilers

The primary difference between Washington and Zorn on the Senator Raoul entry into the Governor’s race issue is that Washington thinks, due to Senator Raoul’s  lack of executive experience and name recognition, Senator Raoul can’t win but he could be a spoiler, taking enough votes away from Quinn to make Bill Daley the Democratic Party nominee (Washington didn’t say it but you got the impression that a Daley Democratic Primary win would sadden her).

Zorn was the “idealist” among the two guest panelists. He likened Senator Raoul to other blacks who won a race with two whites,  e.g., Mayor Harold Washington in 1983 and U. S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun in 1992. But, as Zorn seems to ignore, both of these folks started much earlier in the game and had much more charisma and perhaps appeal to the white electorate than would Senator Raoul.

Moreover, as Washington argued, life is quite a bit different today than the 80s or early 90s, or even 2002 (if you make the comparison to Roland Burris’ bid in that year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary—and Burris, as Washington notes, had quite a bit of state wide name recognition before he began that race)

Quinn, Daley and Raoul out of sync with Black voters? 

In any case, none of the three discussants on the panel took any time to note that there is very little difference on most of the substantive issues between Daley, Quinn and Raoul. On, for example, the social issues: abortion, guns and same sex marriage, all three candidates are completely out of sync with the black community [Watch Bishop Lance Davis]. They all support abortion rights, gun control and same sex marriage—positions which are much less popular with black Democrats than white democrats.

For the Democratic Primary, this homogeneity on the issues might tend to diminish the black vote for Raoul. Black Democrats might reasonably think—with no real substantive difference between those three—“let’s go with the likely winner, the person who promises us the most patronage or the person with the longest record supporting our position.” As the old, established pol with the most current power (of the three) to dispense, Advantage  Quinn.

This is the value added of having a balanced panel. Journalists who skew right of center wouldn’t miss this point: Brackett, Washington and Zorn did. A similar problem would occur if you had three conservatives involved in the discussion. They would miss points that Brackett, Washington or Zorn would catch. That is why WTTW needs more ideological balance and "true diversity of intellectual perspectives."

Washington, Zorn and Brackett got Raoul’s state employee pension reform work wrong

Another example of Brackett, Washington and Zorn getting it completely wrong last night was their discussion of whether Senator Raoul, as the legislative conference committee chairman, can solve the state employee pension problem soon.  The whole discussion between those three focused on whether Senator Raoul had the political finesse to find a compromise (among mainly Democrats)  that nobody else (including powerful Democratic House and Senate  legislative leaders Madigan and Cullerton, respectively) could do.

Nobody on the panel thought to point out or emphasize that Raoul has lined up almost 100%  with his Democratic Party Senate Leader and Senate President- John Cullerton- in playing to the unions on the state employee pension fund issue. Thus, if Senator Raoul “solves,” the problem, it will be a band-aid approach, good for a year or two, which might buy him labor support, but very well could lose him the general election, as the Republicans argue that Raoul sold out most of the citizens of Illinois to gain labor support for his gubernatorial bid. [Of course, none of the discussants noted that some of the Republican rank and file (e.g., Reps. Morrison and Ives) are sponsoring true state employee pension reform legislation that one of the Republican Primary gubernatorial candidates, Senator Dillard, has bought into, at least long term (Watch Senator Dillard here, 7:00 to 7:30)]

Can Senator Raoul beat Speaker Madigan?

Indeed, this is why it is unlikely that Raoul can produce a compromise that passes the House, because even Democratic Party Speaker Madigan will not go along with a bill that gives the unions almost everything they want—in the name of reform. Speaker Madigan knows politics better than the three discussants, and he is unlikely to do anything that risks his losing the Speakership because too many of his members are thrown out of office for selling out to the public sector unions—that’s one reason Senator Raoul is unlikely to come up with a real solution to the problem.

The best the Illinois Democratic Party can come up with up politically, so far, is gridlock. Senate President Cullerton is too wedded to the state employee unions to risk true state employee pension reform. Speaker Madigan is not as dependent on unions, so he focuses on the risk on the other side—upsetting taxpayers by giving in to the unions and enacting sham pension reform legislation.

The only solution that might please both Madigan and Cullerton would be sham pension reform legislation that had enough of an “aura” of reform to attract suffiicient Republican support to remove Madigan’s fears of losing seats and ultimately his Speakership. Does anyone really think Senator Raoul could draft and pass such legislation when Speaker Madigan couldn’t?

This was another “big miss,” Tuesday night for the three liberals doing the talking on Chicago Tonight.

Zorn and Washington go off the rails when assessing the 2014 Republican Gubernatorial Primary                  

Of course, the problem became even more acute for the three liberal discussants in the one minute discussion of the Republican Gubernatorial Primary candidates. Laura Washington seemed to rely, for her analysis, on Democratic U. S. Senator Dick Durbin’s conclusion that rich businessmen, like Bruce Rauner, never win statewide in Illinois. That might be right, but basing your whole discussion on a Democratic U. S. Senator’s opinion is probably not what most would call a fair and balanced assessment of the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Eric Zorn also blundered big-time. He started his analysis by seeming to suggest that Rauner could win the primary because the “money interests,” are coalescing around Rauner. Well, yes, the money interests might be supporting Rauner because of his focus on free market economic issues and because those folks might be rich friends of rich man Rauner.  But, raising money is not exactly the  main problem faced by rich man Rauner and his success at doing so is unlikely to be outcome determinative in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary.

Rauner: Pro Choice on abortion in a Pro Life party? 

A conservative might have pointed out that the Republican Primary in Illinois skews as far right as the Democratic Primary skews left. There may be only 700, 000 voters, or so, in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary in Illinois. That relatively small number makes it even more likely that a group with a strong, intense interest can dominate the  primary. This is the history of the Republican primary in Illinois in the last decade.

In 2002, two pro-life Republican gubernatorial candidates (Jim Ryan and Pat O'Malley) got 73% of the vote to pro-choice Corinne Wood's 27%). In 2006, pro-choice Judy Baar Topinka got the Republican nomination for Governor because two strong pro- life candidates (Oberweis and Brady) split the pro-life vote against Topinka, who faced  a relatively weak pro- choice, free market oriented candidate, Gidwitz, who did not drain enough votes from Topinka for the pro-lifers to win. In 2010, there were no pro-choice candidates among the six final, Republican gubernatorial primary candidates.

The Republican primary voters might perceive the four 2014 Republican primary candidates to be quite close on the economic issues. But, on the social issues, there are significant differences. Treasurer Rutherford, Senator Dillard and Senator Brady are all viewed as strongly pro-life on abortion, which is the favored position of the great majority of Republican primary voters.  Businessman Rauner appears confused on the abortion issue, but Republican primary voters view him, so far, as pro-choice.

Moreover, Rutherford will have his problems on other social issues (see below), so Brady and Dillard will divide up most of the social conservative vote, with Rutherford being a strong drain on the Rauner vote.  Further, look for social conservatives to coalesce around Dillard, as he is seen by social conservatives as the candidate who can win in the general, because of his “moderate tone,” and yet he will be trusted by the social conservatives to stay firm on their issues. Even Zorn was moving toward this position in his analysis, but he just didn’t get the logic of his own observations.

On guns, who knows where Rauner really is, but that might be the least of his problems with social issue voters.

Brackett, Zorn and Washington ignore the same sex marriage issue

Rauner’s main problem for the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary is same sex marriage, an issue on which Rauner doesn’t seem to want to take a position, other than to say he would put it to a referendum by the voters. As to whether Rauner would sign a same sex marriage bill, if it passed the legislature, Rauner won’t say. In sharp contrast on this issue are Brady, Rutherford and Dillard, all of whom oppose same sex marriage. The Republican primary voters largely oppose same sex marriage. Loser on this issue? Clearly Rauner for the Republican primary.

This whole discussion of social issues was completely ignored by Brackett, Zorn and Washington when discussing the Republican Primary. Even if they knew this stuff, which they don’t, how could they cover it in one minute? But this skewed misallocation of time to Republican issues is a common occurrence at WTTW. As I said, it must be the water in the cafeteria.

Brackett, Washington and Zorn: A kiss is just a kiss

Moreover, there was a recent irritant to the Republican primary “values” voters last week when a picture appeared in the Chicago Tribune of the married Bruce Rauner kissing a female staffer/volunteer on the lips.  No mention by Zorn, Washington and Brackett of that issue, even though it has been burning up the Republican blogs.

That omission is not too surprising when you have your hired staff and management all drink from the same idea pool.  Looking out the window to WTTW’s world, it appears that all right thinking individuals support more government spending, higher taxes, abortion, gun control and same sex marriage. And married pols kissing their staffers on the lips? Why not? Welcome to the wonderful world of WTTW-- liberals talking to liberals.

Ideological balance on your dominant Chicago Public TV station? Not so much.



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  • Awful lot here, which can be condensed into a few points:

    1. Is there an abbreviation for WTTW that means "40% of the year is pledge drives?"

    2. It seems like they were equal time in handicapping the horse race in both parties, which is about all any "journalist" is concerned these days. Heck, I am more concerned when Joel Weisman asks the sports guy on Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review about his view on politics and business (other than as affecting the Ricketts family).

    3. There is a long history of unbalanced panels here, going back to Kup discussing the Middle East with 3 Jews and 1 Arab. I guess you would say that Kup had the Arab. Maybe Dennis Byrne doesn't want to take his fake debate with Zorn over to WTTW.

    4. With regard to the Black vote, Bobby Rush vs. Barack Obama for the U.S. Congress proved that the hood does not support Hyde Parkers.

    5. All the pledge drives might indicate that nobody is watching, and certainly not giving. Heck, they cut back the Create channel to half time for WGBH liberal programming.

    6. I can watch Nova, This Old House, and AutoWeek on WYCC, although I am not interested in a show with a bunch of community college professors debating anything.

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