Wednesday, October 26, 2005

“Here’s Bob Sirott (Who’s Making $500,000 a Year)”

Media critics on both big daily newspapers are lachrymose: Bob Sirott has not been renewed at WTTW, the city’s biggest public TV station. Why not? It seems the first reason was `TTW didn’t have enough to pay him but then it received a few hefty grants. Still it doesn’t have enough to cover him. Sirott is good at what he does, as host of “Chicago Tonight!” but his unreported but verifiable via insiders nearly half million yearly salary (having started at about $350,000) fits commercial TV not public where public funding is commingled with foundation, corporate and individual giving.

Under Sirott “Chicago Tonight!” took on a salutary and somewhat overdue broader focus, not concentrating merely on public policy issues which was warranted. But Dan Schmidt’s obvious disinclination to continue to pay big bucks—worrying about donor fatigue—leads this observer to wonder why salaries are not public record at `TTW since public monies are involved. It is a sure thing that if the public knew the salaries paid, it would change its opinion of all the public stations that go hat-in-hand and cry poormouth at specific times. What does Phil Ponce earn—and Elizabeth Brackett?

The only public TV broadcaster worth his keep in this reporter’s view was John Callaway. Callaway approached the news with a sense of history, having covered Chicago through its tumultuous times: from the Sixties and the civil rights revolution through Daley I, Jane Byrne, Harold Washington, Gene Sawyer and Daley II. That era included Everett McKinley Dirksen, Paul Douglas, Ralph Tyler Smith (remember him?) Adlai Stevenson III (remember him?), Al (the Pal} Dixon, Chuck Percy (remember him?), Paul Simon and Dick Durbin. He reached back through the governors from Bill Stratton, Otto Kerner, Sam Shapiro, Dick Ogilvie, Dan Walker, Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar. In economics, he would fast-forward from Hoover and FDR and the origin of liberal economics (yes Hoover: the man who initiated powerful federal intrusion into the economy with the RFC and tax hikes [yes hikes!] in the Depression, an attempt that was not regarded as folly then, to get interest rates down)…the postwar consolidation of Truman and Eisenhower, the activism of Kennedy and LBJ, Nixon the conservative man with liberal ideas, the bumpy transition with Ford and Carter to supply-side with Reagan. It would be worth $500,000 to get Callaway back.

In addition to which he could talk sports with the best of `em. Armed with this legendary experience, Callaway was a supremely knowledgeable host who could not often be spun. That doesn’t hold true for Ponce who eschews controversy in often insipidly non-judgmental and often presides as though he’s watching a tennis game: what d’you think, now what d’you think?

A transition that began under Callaway and was continued by Ponce (I leave Sirott out of this because he’s evidently the uninvolved genial super-host) was an invaluable leavening of the religion beat. Religion is a big story here (and everywhere) but on other stations the same old gargoyles keep popping up: uber-liberal Andy Greeley the dissident priest to talk about the Catholic Church and liberal Martin Marty, the Lutheran, Tim Unsworth the ex-Christian brother and Eugene Kennedy the ex-priest who agree with him on church governance if not on liturgy. Starting with Callaway and continuing smoothly through Ponce whenever the Catholic Church is involved, care is taken to reflect the authenticist side of Catholicism as well as the dissident bloc. Decisions to put on Mary Anne Hackett and Dan Cheely of Catholic Citizens along with the liberals during the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI were good.

Now if only `TTW would integrate political coverage also which has taken a nose-dive since Callaway. Whenever it is required, Ponce convenes a Colloquium of the Conventional with participation mandatory by Brackett whose pedigree consists solely of a run as a reformer for 43rd ward committeeman stretching back to time immemorial. There isn’t the faintest recollection of newer trends to challenge the old prescriptions in the nation if not here, so we have my good friend and City Club colleague Dr. Paul Green, a liberal Democrat, opining that social liberal Judy Baar Topinka (a good friend) makes his political analyst’s heart go pitty-pat) with little or no appreciation for the conservative base (the usual cliché being: where else can they go? They can stay home!) at which mention of her name all heads nod and tongues cluck approvingly. It is too much to hope that `TTW will understand that conservatism is more than those who question fluoride in the drinking water.

1 comment:

  1. Your comments support my 'preception' about Sirott. He always seemed to me to be 'insincere' in his comments. He seemed to be 'poltically correct' as long as it was liberal leaning.

    As always ... Your insight is appeciated and your preception is correct. Bring back Calloway.