To the editors:
Michael Miner shows himself adept at rehashing what was thoroughly covered weeks ago about the Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann affair in the Chicago Maroon and Chicago Jewish Star [Hot Type, December 13]. It is an odd focus, since Mr. Miner had the opportunity to reveal a major untold aspect of this story.
The "Hot Type" angle should have been: Why have neither of Chicago's two big dailies done original reporting on this controversy?
An alleged Nazi sympathizer publishes anti-Semitic statements before and during World War II. She rises to prominence as a public opinion analyst, and counsels Germany's Helmut Kohl. She never acknowledges, nor does she apologize for, her background. After years of coming to the University of Chicago as a visiting professor, she returns this fall only to be publicly confronted for the first time with allegations about her behavior.
And this is a story worthy of being covered by the New York Times and the Associated Press, with nothing original from the Tribune or Sun-Times?
An investigation into why journalists write about racism in South Africa or anti-Semitism in Japan, but ignore a troublesome memory in their own backyard, is the challenging story which I wish Mr. Miner would have tackled. Instead, he told us all about what was already known.
Editor, Chicago Jewish Star
Michael Miner replies:
If Douglas Wertheimer wishes to pat himself on the back by letting readers know his Chicago Jewish Star (and the Chicago Maroon) covered the Noelle-Neumann affair weeks before Hot Type did, it's a pat well deserved. When I talked to Wertheimer (we talked at length), I told him my interest in this affair was with the nonperformance by the Tribune and Sun-Times. It would have been impossible to develop that topic without praising his new paper for its showing, and he may feel disappointed with the fleeting mention the Jewish Star ultimately got.
But perhaps Wertheimer will concede that despite the best efforts of the Maroon and Jewish Star, this remained an affair with which most Chicagoans, including most Reader readers, were unfamiliar. The more I learned about it, the more I wanted to write about it, and not about the dailies' motives for not writing about it. I had no reason to suspect that their motives would reveal anything dark and troubling about Chicago journalism; after all, at the time I was doing my research I hadn't written about Noelle-Neumann either, and my heart was certainly pure. Ignorance can be an excuse.
At any rate, Steve Huntley, metro editor of the Sun-Times, told me that his paper knew nothing of the Noelle-Neumann affair until the New York Times ran its report. The Sun-Times tried to match the story but couldn't reach the professor (Wertheimer found her very accessible, but later she stopped returning phone calls), and settled for the AP story. Ann-Marie Lipinski, who is Huntley's Tribune counterpart, said on December 18 that the story had been assigned and was expected in shortly. It'll be interesting to see (the story should appear before this issue of the Reader does) what the Tribune reporter comes up with, given that Professor Noelle-Neumann has returned to Germany. The papers should feel some embarrassment about overlooking a good story for so long, but if Wertheimer suspects that they willfully ignored it, I think he's dead wrong. His Star scooped the big boys, but not because the story was too hot for them to print.