Keep the Mirage Real!

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History isn't made of glass — it'll survive a lot of clumsy handling. But a post Friday on Andrew Sullivan's blog is simply too ham-handed with the facts to abide.

Sullivan's been writing lately about the vanishing corner pub. A reader informing Sullivan about Chicago's Brehon Pub posted this:

It was started in the '80s by federal and state authorities as a sham business (under the name "the Mirage"). Its sole purpose was to catch City of Chicago building and liquor inspectors soliciting bribes from taverns. Those friendly bartenders were all FBI agents and undercover cops. A bunch of people went to jail. When the scandal was over, the place remained a bar under a new name. Not exactly the beginning you'd expect for a cozy neighborhood Irish watering hole.

Everything about this is wrong. It was the 70s, not the 80s. The bartenders were Sun-Times reporters and BGA investigators. And the Mirage, for that matter, wasn't a "sham." It was a real bar, albeit one that at the suggestion of Pam Zekman, then a Sun-Times reporter, the paper and BGA started up to find out and document what manner of petty graft would wander in. Plenty did.

The alarm was just raised in e-mail from Bill Savage, Reader contributor and Northwestern lecturer in English, who linked to this history of the Mirage project and advised each of us to send our "irate correction" to andrew@theatlantic.com. Savage says he gave a heads up to former Sun-Times reporter Zay Smith, author of the Mirage series, but Smith had already seen it and notified Sullivan.

The more voices raised the better. Once in a while the adage "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" can be disregarded because the legend is fact. Doesn't happen often. And when it does, screwing up the facts in the name of the legend is the worst sort of perversity.

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