Thursday, May 25, 2006
Personal Asides: The Sun-Times Impressive Chicagos First Family Series Marins Attempt to Capitalize on It The Pioneer Press Shoddy Move to Ban Parental Say Over Childrens Readings Congratulations to Dan Miller and Fran Spielman for HOF
There is no doubt that the Sun-Times regular news staff, underpaid, under-rewarded has topped many of the papers the better-paid, celebrity-studded columnists (with few exceptions: Lynn Sweet, Mark Brown and Sneed). As Ive said before, Fran Spielman, the City Hall reporter, writes about a third of the paper each day: no signature column, probably doesnt want one. Now Tim Novak, Robert Herguth and Steve Warmbir have just completed a three-part series on the Rotis, Chicagos first family of clout, that is really a distinguished contribution to the citys historysomething that hasnt been reported in such depth before. The series is so good it just has to receive some kind of reward.
The only thing thats tacky about the series is the cynical attempt to cash in on it as a journalistic treasure. Carol Marin yesterday snarled that Jackie Heard, Daleys news secretary, insisted that before Daley would comment on the series, shed have to get the questions in writing. She did and then decided not to give them to the Mayor. So what? Thats Heards right as a news secretary. Marin huffed: Hes [Daley] an expert on public policy, but its way past time for the mayor and Jackie Heard to re-evaluate their press policy. Because were not going to stop asking. What do you mean we? Its just an old-time TV celebrity prima donna who had nothing to do with the series at all, trying to horn in late to get a bit of reflected glory. And this business of I didnt vote for Jackie Heard. And neither did you. She was appointed, not elected To refuse to present legitimate questions to the mayor is both high-handed and outrageous is nonsense.
A news secretary has the obligation to serve two masters: the boss and the press, not just to be an open conduit to the elected official. Finally, stop being the outraged moralist about not getting other peoples questions answered until you produce a story on your own that deserves commentwhich hasnt happened in two years
Heres a story that is disturbing on two levels.
First level: Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights is considering a request from board member Leslie Pinney that targets books on a reading list that contains what she says is vulgar language, brutal imagery or depictions of sexual situations inappropriate for students. The board is set to vote tonight on whether to keep the books as part of the curriculum. The Pioneer Press newspapers, an adjunct of the Sun-Times, is trumpeting that this objection is an outrage, using all the old clichés about students right to know etc.
Then Mary Dempsey, the Democratic political whenever-I-can-be-of-service-to-the-party lawyer-wife of Democratic power broker and party fund-raiser Phil Corboy, who moonlighted trying to bail the mayor out of patronage difficultiesone of the (for reasons that are obscure to me except that she holds down the political job at the library) frequently cited experts on literature, is quoted as saying Good literature is supposed to get people to think. And sometimes good literature takes you out of your comfort zone. Mary knows a lot about comfort zones, having married a
zillionaire big shot Democrat personal injury titan and former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee but she shouldnt have stuck her nose into a matter that does not concern her. I suppose we are to be overwhelmed because we are informed that that inveterate bookworm and arbiter of literature, Daley supposedly picked one of the books for the One Book, One Chicago reading series which Dempsey has promoted in a burst of selfless devotion to intellectuality. Dempseys own taste buds may well have been corroded by her service on the DePaul University board which nods pleasantly affirmative on the designation of a minor in Queer Studies.
The nine books are of dubious literary value notwithstanding that one was nominated for the Pulitzer prize. When you look at some other Pulitzer prize winners, you find the quality has descended to the basement. In essence, the books are emblematic of the most widespread of human weaknesses, intellectual cowardice and the craven appetite for mental ease and security along with the fear of thinking things out. They are Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers; The Things They Carried by Tim OBrien; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez; The Awakening by Kate Chapin; The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and Freakonomics by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
All are distinctly intellectually second-rate. I had some personal experience with Freakonomics by a supposed young genius, Levitt who first sold the Tribune on a specious idea: that the drop in crime rates is due to the abortion rates which removed so many unwanted childrenpresumably minoritiesfrom life. When the book came out, John Lott, a distinguished lawyer and statistician, proved that Levitt had goofed on the statisticsto which Levitt has never responded and has gone around the country touting the false statistics because they are comforting to the pro-aborts.
The idea that this list contains distinguished categories of literature is ridiculous. High school is the time when students should not be invited to read crap. Instead of the current run-of-the-garbage flow that turns the cerebral Daley on, a list should be dipping into Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest Robert Louis Stevensons Crabbed Age and Youth Thomas Hardys The Darkling Thrush Francis Thompsons The Hound of Heaven Christina Rossettis Goblin Market William Butler Yeats The Stolen Child. Why dont we ask that cerebral paragon Daley what he thinks of them? Sneak up on him sometime and say, Have you ever read any Yeats? and hell likely answer, Huh? Was Syd a writer?
Finally one more time: congratulations to Fran Spielman and Dan Miller, an outstanding journalist and editor, for entering, deservedly, the Chicago Newspaper Hall of Fame.