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Monday, February 16, 2009

The Chicago Media's Disingenuous Anti Corruption Stance

If you read this weekend's editions of the two major Chicago papers, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, you would think that the two papers were ready to do their Constitutional duty and become the tireless watch dog over the corrupt politicians. It was the Sun Times that broke the exclusive story of the offer from Rob Blagojevich for campaign cash to his brother's campaign by current U.S. Senator Roland Burris.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.

Burris acknowledges being hit up for the money in a new affidavit he has sent to the head of the House committee that recommended Blagojevich be removed from office.

The affidavit is dated Feb. 5 — three weeks after Burris was sworn in to replace President Obama in the Senate.

Burris — who did not give money to the Blagojevich campaign fund in response to the previously undisclosed solicitation — provided a copy of the sworn statement to the Chicago Sun-Times Friday in response to questions about his contacts with the Blagojevich camp about fund-raising.

Meanwhile, the Tribune used its Sunday edition to announce an anti corruption campaign.

One governor imprisoned at the gray-bar hotel, another heaved out of office—and in each case, the corruption of our body politic exposed. Headlines speak of bold crimes, self-serving schemes and raw unfairnesses that suffuse our statehouse, our county buildings, our city halls.

Today's newspaper marks the launch—on the news pages and on the editorial page—of a Chicago Tribune campaign against the Illinois culture of political sleaze. We speak of culture, not just of crime, because citizens of this state have been ravaged and disadvantaged by offenses from outright thievery to lawful deception: For every pol who allegedly tries to sell a U.S. Senate seat, hundreds of others are exploiting us for personal or political gain. Changing that culture of sleaze will mean appreciating that we've all been cheated as much by favors as by fraud. The proven cost of conniving and clout in this state ranges from whose children get the choice jobs to whose children get incinerated in the van wreck.

Now, if you didn't live here for years, if you didn't know Chicago's history, you would think our two newspapers were sincere. First, corruption, like that in Chicago, can't exist without the incompetence or even the complicity of the media. In this case, both the corruption and the two newspapers date back more than a hundred years.

Even if one were to believe that the two newspapers had seen the light, there is still something missing. In covering the Grady Hospital scandal, I learned that to truly combat corruption the media must be relentless in its pursuit of said corruption. Often incompetent and complicit media, like that in Atlanta, go through the motions in reporting on corruption. From time to time, the media will get interested in the corruption but then the interest will wane. Often, it isn't so much what the media covers but what it doesn't cover that allows the corruption to continue.

That appears to be what is happening in Chicago. While both were screaming with righteous indignation this weekend about corruption, there is a story that neither is willing to investigate at all. That is the story of Ron Huberman. Huberman has had a remarkable rise up the political ladder of Chicago politics. Five years ago he was a beat cop. He was a beat cop for nine years. Then, suddenly, the mayor, Richard M. Daley, named him the head of the City Transit Authority. He has since become the Mayor's Chief of Staff and now he just got named the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. How in the world does a beat cop suddenly became head of major Chicago institutions? No one seems to know but we can all bet the real story is seedy and corrupt. Either Huberman knows all the right people or he discovered something that someone wants kept private. Either way, there is no professional justification for making a beat cop head of the CTA and now head of Chicago Public Schools. Of course, no one knows the full story because our two new champions of anti corruption seem totally disinterested in pursuing it. As such, a crony, one that likely knows where certain bodies are buried, rises through Chicago politics in a trajectory that has nothing to do with performance or qualifications.

Then, on the same day that the Chicago Sun Times was breaking a major news story regarding the Governor, the Sun Times also made an endorsement of Mike Quigley in the special election of the 5th District to replace Rahm Emanual. What was missing in this endorsement is another endorsement. While the Sun Times made an endorsement on the Democratic side, the Sun Times acted as though there was no Republican field. Now, I won't pretend as though the Republican has little or no chance of winning, but in fact, when the local media ignores the field entirely, those chances are minimized even more.

Everyone agrees that the one party rule in Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield contributes to the obscene corruption. What do we call it if not corrupt, when a major newspaper ignores one of two parties running in acknowledging and endorsing candidates. The Republicans are fielding candidates as well. If the newspapers only recognize the Democrats, doesn't that contribute to the culture of corruption?

These two stories are not merely omissions by chance, coincidence or anomaly. It is all part of a pattern of two newspapers that have more than a hundred years of corruption to answer for. Make no mistake, these two newspapers have turned over no new leaves. They are the same incompetent/complicit newspapers that have contributed to a culture of corruption that rivals any in the whole country.

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