Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Personal Aside: The Disgusting Tribune.


What do you think of an institution which, having sold out its soul, now laughs at an early editor-publisher who built it virtually from the ground up into an international force? An institution that exists today because of what he did? Not much, I’d dare say. To stand by one’s forebears takes character—but there is no character whatever…save one columnist…at The Trib because it is a hollow rag with pretense but no depth. The Sun-Times is a slimy whore but at least does not pretend to be anything else…and it regularly outproduces its rival in city news 2 to 1. It has residual vestiges of what once made it a great newspaper: Fran Spielman, Abdon Pallasch, Lynn Sweet. But the Tribune: when I pick it up I want to throw up.

What brings this to the fore is the absurd little sketch of Col. Robert R. McCormick that occasionally appears in the paper that exists because of his prescience and courage. It is that of an old man in a paper warrior’s hat. McCormick, by the way, was not just editor and publisher of a middling paper who made it an international force: he made his newspaper stand for something…American nationalism…as a fortress of the Midwest. In addition he (and his cousin Joe Patterson) personally selected comic strips that became legend for years—Dick Tracy…Little Orphan Annie…Andy Gump which at one time ran in more papers than any other competitor whose character is honored with a stature in a Lake Geneva, Wis. park.

Not long ago, a Tribune story told of a grant by the DesPlaines city council to save the signboard of a desolated old ice cream parlor known as The Sugar Bowl. The guy who wrote the story…probably a 27-year-old as bereft of the history of the paper he writes for as they come… said those who wanted to save the signboard wished to do so because it had been a part of the suburb’s main street for years. End of story. See—that’s the Trib now. But The Sugar Bowl was the main gathering place for kids in the comic strip “Harold Teen,” which was introduced to the Trib’s circle of exclusive strips on May 4, 1919. The strip became an instant hit because lasting as it did for 30 years it dramatized the nutty Jazz Era of the United States through the largely innocent gaze of a teener—Harold Teen. He and his girlfriend Lillums would swig sodas at The Sugar Bowl run by friendly old Pop Jenks. Their sidekick was Shadow.

At its height Harold Teen was one of the greatest strips in the world ever launched by The Tribune. Its creator was Carl Ed…pronounced”eeed”. He thought that the phenomenon of roaring 20s youth should be characterized somewhere—and The Trib under McCormick did it. The strip lasted throughout the 20s, 30s and 40s…saw Harold Teen go to war and return. It died when its originator did—in 1959.

1919 to 1959 is a stretch of 40 years. Wouldn’t you think a feature writer directed to write a story on saving the Sugar Bowl signboard would have been able to research it enough to credit his own newspaper with the phenomenon of Harold Teen? You would—but the indolence, sloppiness, smart-guy insouciance with no understanding of his company’s history nor a willingness to learn…the same that led an editor to produce a caricature of the paper’s greatest editor…shows there is no pride whatsoever in that paper anymore. Its empty editorial wheelhouse has a tiller swinging to and fro undirected by a cipher employee who wouldn’t understand character if it rapped him in the nose who listens to the black woman who edited the paper’s cookbook.

Pray for one of two things: either that someone with conviction buys the paper from the bald red-rimmed motorcycling little runt who is CEO…or that it goes under with a solid kerplunk.

By the way, the Colonel McCormick the paper has allowed its hirling cartoonist to hideously caricature was the founder of a major law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, leader of the Chicago Sanitary Commission and as editor fought strenuously against Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal including our entrance into World War II joining with such far-right disreputables on the America First committee as John F. Kennedy (chairman, Massachusetts), Chester Bowles, Alice Roosevelt Longworth and other crazies the current Trib would want to be associated with.

If they had a sense of history…or a soul…of which they have neither. An institution can transcend greatness by living too long where it is consigned to a battalion of midgets.

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