Who vetted Ponce's Emanuel-Garcia debate questions for Rahmster bias? Will WTTW apologize? Inquiring minds want to know.

Supplemented at 3:30 pm on Thursday, April 23, 2015.

Sylvia Puente and Rosa Garcia complain to WTTW's Community Advisory Board on Tuesday night:    

Was Phil Ponce biased in his conduct of the Chicago Mayoral Debate/forum on March 31, 2015?

Sylvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum and Rosa Garcia (no relation to Chuy) are convinced the answer is yes.  They suggest WTTW Chicago Tonight anchor Ponce had a motive to be biased in favor of Mayor Emanuel and they believe Ponce's conduct supports their assertions of bias for Mayor Emanuel.

Ms. Puente and Ms. Garcia spoke separately for a few minutes each, giving public comments to the 27 member WTTW Community Advisory Board ("CAB"), chaired by Joe Morris, on Tuesday night.  This reporter also spoke with the two after they stepped out of the  CAB meeting.  The two well-spoken Hispanic leaders asserted that Phil Ponce and Rahm Emanuel are neighbors and friends.  As to that accusation, Phil Ponce has stipulated to living a few houses away from Rahm but claims the two never speak except on Ch. 11.  And, this reporter has uncovered no evidence to the contrary as to the latter issue.

Of mayoral debates, gang member sons and Ponce's bizarre question:

However, as to evidence of bias at the debate, the arguments of the two CAB meeting commenters are stronger.  They focused on the now infamous debate question by Ponce to Cook County  Commissioner Chuy Garcia, "If you can’t keep your own son out of a gang, how can you steer the city away from gangs and violence?"

At first, in an interview with the Washington Post, Ponce defended himself and said that "I do think it’s relevant to know if the future mayor of Chicago has a son that is a member of a gang. I think it is an intuitive question in the minds of a lot of voters. I felt there was a void of coverage of that topic, and so we saw that as an opportunity to address it.”

That comment by Ponce borders on the silly as it seems to suggest that the experienced (albeit perhaps somewhat "rusty" debate moderator) Phil Ponce doesn't understand that the main purpose of a debate is to give the viewers what they need to know in order to form an opinion of the candidates' relative capabilities for the office and about their positions on the issues-- not to fill "voids of news coverage."

Phil Ponce's Mea Culpa

Ponce, himself, seemed to realize that his question was inappropriate on multiple levels when he released a follow-up statement that said, "On further reflection we feel that we missed the mark in the series of gang questions I asked Commissioner Garcia." (Emphasis supplied).

Puente and Rosa Garcia didn't seem to think Ponce had fully apologized and more importantly, they noted that the Public TV station, WTTW [ch. 11]  had not apologized.

V. J. McAleer, WTTW senior VP for Production and Community Partnerships, regularly sits in at the bi-monthly CAB meetings, and he did not jump up to give Ms. Puente and Ms. Garcia the apologies on behalf of WTTW that they sought.  McAleer did, however, make clear, implicitly, that this is a WTTW, not just a Ponce, problem.

WTTW's Senior Management official points his finger at the vetters:

McAleer stated that Ponce's questions, for a debate/forum, would have been vetted by others at WTTW before the forum.

Indeed, McAleer stated that often he would be one of the individuals who would do such vetting for WTTW debates.  However, in this instance, McAleer missed out because he was on vacation.

So, this reporter asked McAleer if the vetters for the WTTW Mayoral debate would have had to have been Carol Marin, lead moderator for WTTW's Chicago Tonight and Mary Field, Executive Producer of Chicago Tonight.

This supposition is due to the fact that the other on-air talent or producers for Chicago Tonight would mostly have been in diapers when Phil Ponce already had ten years of journalism experience-- so they are not exactly the best journalists to be imparting wisdom to Phil Ponce [who now has decades of broadcast journalism experience] on his choice of questions.

McAleer, who seems to have perfected the ability to respond to such tough questions with a warm, friendly "What-- me worry? look," and several moments of stammering and stuttering, concluded with a "I don't know, I was on vacation."

The turret turns to Mary Field and Carol Marin:

Mary Field, as Executive Producer of Chicago Tonight, under whose umbrella the WTTW Chicago Mayoral debate fell, would seem to have had to have been a vetter-- unless she, like V.J., picked a good time to go on vacation.

Carol Marin, as the regular Monday and Wednesday night moderator of the lead, Chicago Tonight public policy discussion (and herself the primary questioner at NBC-5's Chicago Mayoral Debate) would seem to have had to have been a vetter-- unless she, like V. J., picked a good time to take sick leave or a vacation day.

And, if Carol and Mary did the vetting, then it wasn't just one journalist at WTTW, but three senior WTTW journalists who might have been, as Ponce put it "Wide of the mark," and perhaps guilty of journalistic malpractice [messages were left by this journalist w/Marin and Field, asking them to contact him--so he could question them on this issue, but they have not yet responded].

If it transpires that Carol Marin, Mary Field and Phil Ponce were all involved in the debate prep, then maybe Sylvia and Rosa, and the community they feel they represent, will get the WTTW apology they seek.

This is true even though there is nothing, per se,  wrong in journalism with "tough questioning/tough follow-ups." [As John Kass noted in his Chicago Tribune column].  Indeed, that is in large part what good. public policy oriented, political, journalism is all about.

Good jornalism: Tough, fair and reasonable questions for both candidates:

But when conducting a debate, the questioning has to be tough, fair and reasonable and all three of those adjectives have to apply equally to the questions asked of both candidates.

A thoughtful vetter should have said to Ponce: that question about Garcia's son joining a gang has nothing to do even with the issue of whether Chuy was a good parent, let alone whether Chuy can be expected, as Mayor, to diminish the impact of gangs.

A kid for a kid? fair is fair (Rahm's position on school vouchers-school choice):

The WTTW vetter should have gone on to advise:  "Phil, if you insist on bringing Chuy's kids into the picture, well, then, Phil, fair is fair, bring in Rahm's kids.  Ask him: "If you can't find one CPS school good enough for one of your 3 kids, how can the parents of 400,000 other kids find a CPS school good enough for their kids."

And, further, Phil, if you have a follow up for Chuy on his son, why not a follow up for Rahm on his kids:  "Rahm, you think it is ok for you to pay $75,000 per year to send your three kids to a private school, but you won't allow the less fortunate to take $10,000 of the $15,000 we are spending on the kid in CPS, and use that $10,000 [a school voucher] to escape a failing school.  That would make the remaining kids all better off because we would save 5K for CPS to spend on the remaining kids, right?" [Rahm Emanuel has said on "Public Affairs" he is opposed to school vouchers." Click here and watch Rahm in 2002 on School Vouchers by moving the cursor to 26:00].

But WTTW's journalists didn't come up with tough questioning for Rahm, only for Chuy.  Yet, the above shows it could easily have been done.

To whom should WTTW apologize? Who should apologize on behalf of WTTW?

If the above is right, WTTW doesn't owe just Sylvia Puente and Rosa Garcia an apology, it doesn't owe just Chuy Garcia an apology-- but WTTW would then owe the whole Chicago Metro community a full-throated, public apology on TV in prime time, not some weasel words buried in an unseen press release.

And, to be fair, it shouldn't just come from Phil Ponce, but from all the journalists involved in the vetting. And from the place where the buck stops-- that would be WTTW President Dan Schmidt.

I mean fair is fair.


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  • I agree that if Ponce's point was that the child was in a gang, that wasn't appropriate. However, if he had phrased it in terms of "having lived in an area infested by gangs, as you must know from personal experience, what knowledge does that give you to deal with the gang problem" would have been o.k.

    I thought (4 years ago) there was hypocrisy in Rahm sending his children crosstown to the U of C Lab School, instead of, say, something like Northside Prep in his general neighborhood. I suppose that question could have also been posed in a nonconfrontational way, and that Rahm would answer it by saying "we brought all day kindergarten to everyone," i.e. not answer it.

    But as for Carol Marin vetting anything, she is running 3 jobs and tries to byproduct the same work on all three platforms, and in her questioning just repeats the common knowledge question. So, I don't see her as a vetter.

    The buck may stop with Dan Schmidt, but so long as he thinks Suze Orman is educational television, I'm not expecting anything from him. Suffice it to say, there are 3 months when I watch nothing on 11.1. Also, I quit watching Chicago Tonight for the reasons I indicated.

  • WTTW is totally in the bag for Rahm and I could give you an example of them allowing Ponce to interview a Northwestern grad who really is a CIA operative. Every story I ever heard about Rahm has been an unpleasant one. He must really be something else in person. But I have to say I am glad he does not send his children to CPS schools -- what a political minefield that'd be for everyone involved -- students, teachers, principals. Best that Rahm keep these two realms separate.

  • In reply to Rahmenesko:

    I'm not sure I follow your last comment, other than it keeps Rahm's children out of the limelight during a dispute over school governance. There does seem to be a bit of hypocrisy in saying that he is improving the public schools, but they still aren't good enough for his little darlings. On the hypocrisy level, not much different than him saying he rides the CTA, except all the times when his motorcade blows by a red light camera. If the cameras are all about safety, his motorcade should stop at the red light, so that basically is double hypocrisy.

    CPS was good enough for Rauner's child, although I don't see why he exercised clout to get her into Payton as opposed to going to New Trier.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, I don't think the fact that one of Chuy Garcia's kids joined a gang necessarily makes him a bad parent and it surely doesn't mean he is unqualified to deal with gangs as a Mayor. That having been said, if Ponce was going to ask Garcia a tough question or three relating to Chuy Garcia's role as a parent, he should have done the same to Rahm.

    Rahm says he favors charter schools but not school vouchers. So, the hypocrisy is that because Rahm is wealthy, he can opt out of sub par traditional neighborhood CPS schools to send his kids to the UChicago lab school at 25K per kid-- but as a matter policy, he doesn't want to help low income parents of CPS kids similarly opt out of failing CPS schools. Those parents could do this by using a portion of the 15K per kid per year we spend on their kids at CPS to leave the CPS and spend 5K, 10K or 15k of that 15 K (that is, a school voucher) at the private school of their choice.

    That's hypocrisy, pure and simple. And, since Phil Ponce played hardball with Chuy Garcia, he should have played it with Rahm Emanuel. Fair is fair. That's the point.

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