What news editor would sign-off on the type of reporting coverage we’ve seen from the Times since Chicago’s mayoral runoff election began?
By RA Monaco
The New York Times’ coverage of Chicago’s mayoral election changed significantly when Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff bid for his second term. The voices changed too, as longtime Chicago-based correspondent Monica Davey was banished to the other side of the great cheese wall to cover Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
The tone of the Times’ runoff coverage has shown a profound change, absent the balanced and objective reporting of Davey. Their new style unabashedly belittles challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia with innuendo while ignoring facts and gushing overtly for Emanuel.
In a series of four runoff election articles, the Times began with the misleading claim that Mr. Garcia has been avoiding questions. They followed in a second article suggesting that now Mr. Garcia often has more than one answer. A third coauthored article condones the overt mocking of Mr. Garcia and his constituents, as “the liberals at the Heartland Café in Rogers Park [who] can think great thoughts and read poetry for Chuy.”
The Times’ follows these articles with the same reporters accepting the mayor’s denials and excuses without inquiry while attempting to soften his consistently poor behavior.
New Voices Spin the News Cycle for Emanuel
What news editor would sign-off on the type of reporting coverage we’ve seen from the Times since Chicago’s mayoral runoff election began? We can’t be sure who gave the command but we do know that it was Alison Mitchell, national editor at the New York Times that assigned Julie Bosman with gushing praise to be their Midwest correspondent last April.
Filling the void left by Davey and spinning the news cycle for Emanuel’s runoff bid are two new voices. Now covering the runoff-election for the Times is new Midwest correspondent Julie Bosman—known for publishing Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s home address—and Jonathan Martin, a national political correspondent described by his friend Rich Lowrey at The Washington Post, as a “warmed-over hack” from The National Review, where Martin cut his teeth writing conservative commentary on politics.
Connections That Reach Back to the 1990’s
Before delving into comparisons and examples of the noticeably changed tone since Garcia forced a runoff election, consider briefly the connection that reaches back to the 1990s Clinton presidency between Mitchell and Emanuel.
Mitchell joined the Times in 1992 and progressed from a metro reporter to a White House correspondent. She ran the Washington bureau’s Congressional coverage while Emanuel served as a Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton in Washington.
In the Clinton White House, Emanuel’s role was as a “behind-the-scenes press handler,” according to the 1998 Howard Kurtz book titled, Spin Cycle: How the White House And The Media Manipulate The News. In part, Emanuel’s role was to strategically leak stories to the Times, the Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Occasionally, he snubbed Wall Street Journal reporters like Michael Frisby and others when their coverage wasn’t to Emanuel’s liking and “he was not shy about calling a reporter an [explicative] idiot.”
During his time in the Clinton Administration the “White House staff spent untold thousands of dollars on Nexis searches, combing the journalistic databases for every scandalous tidbit they could find so Emanuel could knowledgeably engage in the art of spin.”
Writing for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Peter Baker said about Emanuel’s time between the Clinton and Obama Administrations, that “he managed to get around so much that an editor at a major newspaper at the time recalled finding Emanuel’s name on the expense account of virtually every reporter covering Washington for that paper.” In this March 2010 article, Baker maintains that “Emanuel is unquestionably a master manipulator of the news media.”
Emanuel would bring this same approach to Chicago.
Poorly Reported Coverage, Cynical, Shallow and Misleading
Chicago’s mayoral runoff has generated plenty of media coverage, particularly from the Times, but since Davey’s February 24th piece—her last on the City’s election—the Times’ coverage has significantly changed, in content and tone, from Davey’s authoritative and nuanced reporting based on years covering Chicago, to a cynical and shallow approach that has been so misleading, poorly reported, and snidely written that it begs the question of what the Times’ editorial leadership has been thinking, and whether this is another sign of Emanuel’s media manipulations at work.
The opening sentence in Bosman’s March 13 article – her first on the runoff election — sets the tone for the three articles published by the Times since the runoff began. Bosman begins, “After spending months avoiding questions about how he would solve Chicago’s dizzying fiscal problems, Jesus G. Garcia released a plan…”
The problems, with these first words, are that they give a less than honest portrayal of fact. Indirectly, Bosman intentionally favors the mayor suggesting that his “challenger” is “avoiding questions.” Bosman offers this statement as fact, with no reference to Mr. Garcia’s reluctance to engage in political rhetoric without having adequately accessed the details necessary to offer specifics.
A more informative article might have explained that Mr. Garcia had refrained from political rhetoric because he hasn’t had the information, level of detail and access to all the financial information needed to be specific and evaluate possible options—information that Emanuel has had for the past four years.
Deceptive Word Play Permeates Runoff Coverage
There is also no discussion anywhere in this first article about the fact Mr. Garcia declared his mayoral candidacy late and only at the urging of Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, after she withdrew from the race following her October 2014 diagnosis of brain cancer.
Importantly, this type of word play permeates all three of Bosman’s articles on the runoff election—the last of which was coauthored with Martin.
In her third paragraph, Bosman references Garcia’s intention to consolidate costs and the investment fees related to Chicago’s bond obligations while glossing over his intent to “make changes in tax increment financing.” TIF money—as it is sometimes called—has been a matter of concern and criticism about Emanuel. The allocation of TIF money is illustrative of Emanuel’s disparate use of economic development funds around the city. In a recent Chicago Reader piece, Ben Joravsky wrote that Emanuel has allocated nearly half of the $1.3 billion in TIF funds to just the Loop and immediately surrounding areas.
To dismiss Garcia and an entire discussion about TIF funds in one sentence does no service for Chicagoans concerned about their choices in this runoff election. It’s a subject many of Emanuel’s critics and even some of his council allies say should change so that more resources go to struggling neighborhoods.
Spokesman Given Open Microphone to Personally Belittle
In the blatant marginalization of Garcia’s candidacy, Bosman writes, “Mr. Garcia, 58, who is widely known as Chuy, provided few details, on how he would address the city’s $300 million operating shortfalls and underfunded pension liabilities.”
Most troubling is that Emanuel’s campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry, is then given the equivalent of an open microphone to belittle Mr. Garcia personally, “comparing him to a foot-dragging high school student.” Mayberry is also quoted to say, “After four months of studying for the exam, Chuy Garcia is telling Chicago voters he will hand in his homework after graduation.”
Garcia’s approach of appointing a commission to attack complex budget issues and secure workers’ pensions is labeled by Mayberry as an “empty promise,” among other disparaging comments which are neither evaluated by Bosman nor balanced by a look at Emanuel’s record on the same issues.
For example, Bosman must be aware that Chicago’s dire financial issues have resulted in a lowered debt rating by Moody’s Investors Service. Yet she fails to acknowledge this has occurred after four years of Emanuel being at the helm. His decisions, in some measure, have left the city with the higher financial costs that come with a debt rating two notches above junk status. Hasn’t Mayberry anything to say on this issue?
Her article concludes with quotes from Andy Shaw paired with no reference to their originating context revealing more about the Times’ agenda than the actual perspective of the Better Government Association chief executive, who interviewed Mr. Garcia extensively on March 20th. Bosman intentionally undermines Mr. Garcia with Shaw’s words arranging them to lead readers into believing that it’s somehow reasonable to expect concrete revenue proposals before carefully exploring options.
Marginalizing Garcia as an Immigrant
Julie Bosman follows with a second article headline, “Chicago Candidate With Sunny Attitude Cloudy on Specifics.” This March 15th piece works overtime attempting to cast Garcia as a flip-flopper, while twice seizing on his ethnicity and immigration to the city.
Bosman begins here with the obvious, that Garcia is “trying to unseat” Emanuel. Again, while factually true, she sarcastically resorts to mocking with now, Garcia “often has an answer—and sometimes more than one.”
Mitchell described Bosman as an investigative reporter when assigning her to be their new Midwest correspondent. So, how is it Bosman spends so much time belittling Garcia and no time at all looking into Emanuel’s record and campaign. Given a few minutes of research, she might have found that nearly 60 percent of Rahm’s 103 campaign donors—his elite circle—benefited from the city government, receiving contracts, zoning changes, business permits, pension work, board appointments, regulatory help or some other tangible benefits.
Instead Bosman heralds—apparently with the blessings of Mitchell—Emanuel’s time in Washington “as a top aide to the last two Democratic presidents.” No disclosure is added, despite the fact that Howard Kurtz in his 1998 book Spin Cycle: How The White House And The Media Manipulate The News, documents in considerable detail how Emanuel, as a “behind the scenes press handler,” leaked stories to Mitchell during the Clinton years. Maybe the answer is that media manipulation works the same, whether in Washington or in Chicago elections?
By contrast, in her closing paragraph, Bosman raises the marginalizing innuendo of Mr. Garcia as an immigrant whose father was a farm worker and mother a factory worker who arrived from Mexico when he was “only 9 years old.”
Bosman doesn’t cite this as context for Garcia’s accomplishments as she reviews his record. Instead, it is a reminder of the classism that connects Rahm to people in Washington—presidents, financiers, and Times reporters —not working people and immigrants who speak English as a second language.
Two Reporters Needed for Mocking Anonymous Quote
The most recent and third Times article on Chicago’s runoff election takes a more strategic tone politically with Emanuel being seen on the South Side overseeing improvements and talking to “hard-hatted city workers.” There’s a deliberate effort in this March 21st piece to cast Rahm as “good with the black business community” while reminding us once again, that he has “the full-throated support of the president.” Readers are told that Rahm is counting on a strong showing from African-Americans—one third of the City’s population—and that in the initial balloting Garcia’s worst results were in heavily black wards.
Comments from Ald. William D. Burns are thrown in to vouch for Emanuel, who is then tied to the legacy of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Importantly, two reporters fail to mention that Burns benefited with last minute money from the mayor-linked political action committee Chicago Forward. It’s also a profoundly crass attempt to use Ald. Burns race to smooth over the last four years of Emanuel’s questioned priorities ignoring the African-American community.
Mocking, Belittlement and Faux Reporting
The hand of coauthor Martin is seen throughout the entire piece in several respects, most notably in use of the terms, “left,” “lefty” and “liberal” which occur no less than fifteen times. There is a concerted effort to fear monger voters into supporting Emanuel throughout the entire piece while voter support for Garcia is marginalized only as “a protest vote against Mr. Emanuel that may not hold up in a two-way runoff.”
Apparently, it takes two Times reporters to find a Rahm advisor to provide an anonymous quote that mocks Garcia, and indirectly the intelligence of Chicago voters.
These two reporters attempted to take the sting out of Mr. Emanuel’s brusque personality, his vision for public education, balkanized racial politics and his failure over the past four years to handle the troubled state of the City’s municipal finances. However, offering them up early in this piece and giving Emanuel the last words won’t cleanse the taint of this brand of mocking, belittlement and faux reporting by the Times.
Reporters Accept Denial and Excuses
In the Times’ March 30 article, Emanuel denies Ald. Scott Waguespack’s account of the mayor’s verbal assault with no follow up comment afforded Ald. Waguespack by these reporters.
Responding to a request for comment after reading the mayor’s reported denial, Ald. Waguespack states, “Rahm yelled, I was taken aback.” “I knew he acted that way in DC so I was sort of prepared.” “He said he didn’t do it but he’d be wrong,” added Ald. Waguespack, who affirmed his original account of that meeting and the mayor’s unprofessional conduct.
With no substantive discussion about Emanuel’s difficulty with unions, this article misleadingly attempts to portray a general endorsement by unions. Comments from William M. Daley, the brother and son of former Chicago mayors are added to vouch for the mayor’s difficult style as “an acquired taste.”
Once again, the Times’ allows spokesman Steve Mayberry to offer excuses for the mayor’s difficulties saying that “Mayor Emanuel took office during unprecedented financial and educational crises.” Two reporters fail to probe these excuses or explore on any level, Emanuel’s influence while on the board at Freddie Mac which was created to sell mortgage-backed securities, the financial instruments primarily responsible for the unprecedented economic collapse.
The article concludes with these reporters laboring to portray a softer side of the mayor, excusing his behaviors as passion while casting him in a v-neck sweater attempting to take responsibility for his consistent abrasiveness with Karen Lewis among the many.
Chicago voters should see this work as a desperate effort by a media manipulating mayor who, in effect, has shown them even less respect than the journalists he manipulates.