Saturday, March 4, 2006
Lynn Sweet Again Takes the George Tagge Memorial Prize!
My friend Jeff Berkowitz once asked me if Im serious: and I am. Newspapers should return to the partisan state they once were and stop pretending they present objective news. It is impossible to present objective news. The New York Times has long understood that case and puts out a paper which is liberal, even lefty, but honest. Not long ago, its public editor, an outstanding writer named Daniel Okrent, announced (to the papers discomfiture) that it is an unashamedly liberal journal.
Why the Times seemed concerned with Okrent, I dont know. He was right. With few exceptions, the news columns match the editorials with unashamed bias. The New York Post, possibly the oldest newspaper in the country, founded by Alexander Hamilton, gives us a determinedly conservative Republican slant. The Washington Times, a much better paper than it is billed, is similarly undisposed to represent that it presents objective news.
The Washington Post is in the tradition of the Timesan absolutist of the left. And hurrah for it.
As I have earlier pointed out, the Sun-Times now has dropped any façade of objectivity and gives us liberal Democratic newsallowing its coverage of politics to spurt to the news pages direct from the lefty faucet (the only exception being Fran Spielman who is such a great city hall reporter that she disdains ideology and reports as she sees it; but she is so good the paper doesnt correct it). And for the most consistent purveyor of Democratic party and ultra-liberal news, its Washington, D. C. bureau chief, Lynn Sweet, once again takes the George Tagge prize. She has won it so often it may become part of her permanent possessions. Ironically, he worked for the Tribune which today says it presents objective news. Of course it does not but makes a better pretense than the Sun-Times which has dropped the kimono. Perhaps some day it will revert to what it used to do. Then it will have need for another George Tagge.
Who was George Tagge? In the days when the Colonel ran the Tribune and for some years after, Tagge was its political editor. I knew him well. Like Sweet, he was an unashamed partisan: only a conservative Republican. That didnt stop Tagge from being an extraordinary journalist. He not only covered news from a Republican slant, reaching over to give Democratic news only when the nuggets he reported were demoralizing he frequently produced stunning scoops about both parties. Sweet has resurrected the Tagge tradition: she covers exclusively Democratic news, veering over when the mood suits her to give a thumb-in-the-eye to the GOP. Her breathless reportage of the 6th district congressional race is a case in point. Unhampered by copy editor involvement, Sweet is the feminine version of Tagge as partisan run-amok. Republican Peter Roskam is mentioned obligatorily only once in an article breathlessly reporting the two liberal candidates against himChristine Cegalis and, Sweets favorite, Tammy Duckworth. But Sweet has had scoops, tooand major ones.
Once I went to lunch with Tagge at a haunt he reserved only for his favorites: the ultra-posh Chicago Club, home to c.e.os, which is called disparagingly the Van Buren Street Y. He stalked into the Club magisterially with me in tow, an anonymous Quaker Oats lobbyist. He was a slight man outfitted in an expensive suit, iron grey hair, carrying a Coach under-the-arm briefcase, looking for all the world like a banker rather than journalist. As he gave his magnificent cashmere top coat to the custodian along with his umbrella, he was surrounded by deferential c.e.os who asked him not just the latest political news but whom he thought they should contribute to. Asked about one Republican worthy, he growled, dont give him a dime. Then a small group took him to a huddleas I waited timidlyto ask him strategic questions about the forthcoming Republican national convention. I could overhear him say, no-no-no, Indiana is supposed to come in on the third ballot! as if he were instructing a child. At the 1964 convention, in San Francisco, seeing no one was carrying the Illinois sign in the Goldwater demonstration, he picked it up, hoisted it aloft and strode in the parade.
This is the model that Lynn Sweet follows, although I never saw her parade with the Illinois banner, but she is a youngish woman and has sufficient time to grow. She reportedly does give superb political advice, attends strategy meetings of top Democrats where her sagacity is valued and advice treasuredadvice that were she a consultant would be worth far more than she makes as a journalist. All this she does gratis because she is a believer. God love her for that. Tagge was a believer, too. A believer in conservatism, the Republican party. A believer in the Colonel and in his corporation, the Tribune company. After McCormick died, the newspaper promoted a huge convention-exposition hall to be built on the lake, which would be named after McCormick. Getting legislative approval was a difficult task and for it, the paper recruited the best lobbyist it could findTagge. In some circles, McCormick Place is still called Tagges Temple. Thats the kind of journalist who would have made the founders of this profession proud: Horace Greeley, Hearst, Rudolph Murdock. Tagge was the kind Lynn Sweet is. And I do not say this with irony or sarcasm.
For all his love of politics, Tagge was a lonerliving with his wife in a nice apartment on Lake Shore Drive. I dont know whether Lynn Sweet is a loner and sure hope not because the only love of Tagges life was in addition to his wife a yellow canary he called tweety-bird after the famous cartoon character in a Bugs Bunny film. As soon as he would get home from a hard day in Republican strategizing and reporting, consulting with Bill Stratton and Everett Dirksen, Tagge would open the expensive cage and take out tweety-bird on his forefinger. Then he would sit down, sip a drink and talk to it as so: Hello, tweety bird! Have you missed your daddy today? No? Why not, tweety bird? I was privileged to witness this. The bird would look at him as if he really understood, would cock its little head and George would give it a soft kiss on its beak. I can tell you that it would return the favor. A slight peck but it meant everything to George. It was a touching moment for one who had a rigid, frozen-ice exterior. And I dont mean the bird.
I have told this before, but one day Tagge, who did not have colleagues as friends at the office and wanted none (sufficient that he was venerated upstairs) brought up in the newsroom the fact that he had a canary and softened a bit, showing with moistened eye a great deal of respect for Tweety-Bird. Not long later, when he and the missus went to a movie in the evening, they returned home to see that their apartment was broken into. No money or jewels were taken but the door to the cage was open and there was no tweety-bird. Plainly it was an inside job. After that, Tagges demeanor hardened a bit. If possible. He became less compassionate. If possible. But not more conservative. Not possible.
I hesitate to give the Tagge loving cup to the permanent possession of Lynn Sweet for she may ultimately be untrue, presenting both sides as he indignantly refused to. We will see. Right now she has a lock on it.