By: Mark Glennon*
Something great rose from the dead this past week in Chicago’s media — self-criticism. Sort of.
First, WTTW’s Phil Ponce was widely criticized by the press for persistent questions he directed to Jesus Garcia about his son’s alleged gang involvement. The questions were asked in the debate this week between Rahm Emanuel and Garcia, that Ponce moderated.
Then the Chicago Reader went after Greg Hinz from Crain’s over his article about demagoguery by Garcia and others on Chicago TIF financing. Hinz actually did two articles on TIFs, linked here and here, (though he couldn’t bring himself to call out Garcia by name in the first one). Noted fiscal expert and ace political reporter, Natasha Korecki from the Sun-Times, then chimed in on Twitter to say the Reader did a “damn good job” rebutting Hinz.
Whether those criticisms were fair is not the point. The point is that they were made at all. Internal criticisms like that in Chicago’s media are akin to blasphemy. Unlike the national media, where reporters and commentators constantly take shots at each other, Chicago’s press keeps a blind eye on itself. The press corps here is a clubby fellowship. You see see it in their Twitter feeds, where high-fives and back-slaps are routine. Yet it’s in Chicago, more than anywhere, that media self-criticism is most needed. Our links on this site to sources outside the regular press and our own articles comprise, in effect, a catalog of failure by the Chicago’s media on the city and state fiscal crises. Errors and omissions are the rule, and that they pass unchallenged is a primary reason why the same politicians who bankrupted us are reelected endlessly.
When the final book is written about Chicago’s fiscal calamity, the title will be a variation on JFK’s “Why England Slept.” It will be “Why Chicago Slept,” and a central theme will be the media’s failure, including its failure to self-police.
Personally, I’m usually inclined to attribute local media failure to incompetence, laziness or old-fashioned muckraking, and not to political bias. But this little episode surely does say something about bias. Were Phil Ponce’s questions and Greg Hinz’s articles so uniquely bad that only they should elicit internal media criticism? (Hinz’s, actually, were very good and carefully researched.) Can anybody say with a straight face that worse questions and articles haven’t been frequent in coverage of, most conspicuously, Bruce Rauner? Why media introspection only to support so extreme a leftist as Garcia?
May the resurrection of self-criticism be honored all year. Have at each other, reporters. It’s good for Chicago, and you’ll probably find that livening things up will improve your readership. But do it evenhandedly.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.