Modern Striking; Spies in the Press | Media | Chicago Reader

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Modern Striking; Spies in the Press

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Modern Striking

Mike Cunningham swept us along on a "scab hunt." He and some other NABET strikers from NBC were closing in on Mad Anthony's--that's the joint in the Mart Plaza Holiday Inn where the folks who took over those NBC jobs were supposed to have gathered. Since those folks are working double duty, they sleep at the Mart Plaza--NBC is in the Merchandise Mart across the street.

"We're gonna pretend you're from the Washington Post," said Cunningham, a news graphics engineer. Apparently notice paid by the Post would strike more fear and humiliation in the hearts of these opportunistic knaves than that of the Reader. But no one was there.

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians went on strike against NBC June 29. Most people, said newswriter/producer Bruce Rheins, think of strikers as "workers standing out in front over a fire warming their hands with management inside." The Chicago contingent of 300 strikers has been more lively and creative than that.

"I never thought I'd be in the pulpit of Operation PUSH, preaching," Rheins told us. "I usually watch those types of things."

Rheins called it "the new wave of striking." The strikers follow Channel Five news teams around with picket signs. They contact sponsors and tell them the strike is damaging their products. Engineer Linda Todhunter took her picket sign to a Bears press conference. Cunningham picketed in front of President Reagan in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Every night, the strikers gather behind the Merchandise Mart for a solidarity barbecue. When the "scabs" head home, they take snapshots of them. "They seem to get real upset by it for some reason," said Todhunter.

What are these high jinks about? Originally, the strike had to do with "daily hires"--free-lancers that NBC wanted to hire who would, NABET objected, replace union workers. Now Dick Beidel, a Chicago-based network negotiator for NABET, says the union understands that NBC needs daily hires to cut down on staff overtime. What NABET might do is appoint a "call steward" to monitor these free-lancers and see to it their role at NBC stays within limits.

So the only thing still at issue is the language of the 257-page contract--the "final offer" from NBC that Beidel and five other negotiators rejected without allowing the 2,800 affected union members to vote on it. "It's riddled with weasel words," Beidel said. Arbitration cases based on this contract will suffer if the language isn't exactly right, he said.

"Here it says 'It will be the intent of the company to . . . ' That means nothing. You can drive a Mack truck through that. You have to have it say 'The company shall not do this. The company shall do that.' You almost have to be a goddamn attorney to study this contract." So, what's left of negotiations is "attempting to establish a dialogue to take the weasel words out," said Beidel.

Beidel is sending Chicago strikers copies of the contract they didn't get to vote on. At a meeting last Friday, Chicago NABET members passed a motion requiring Beidel to at least discuss with the other five national negotiators--the "network negotiating committee"--the possibility of submitting the "final offer" to the NABET rank and file.

But Beidel scorns this initiative as a waste of time. If the national committee decides to go ahead and have a vote, it could take weeks to bring off, and the membership would just vote no anyway, he predicted. Speaking of the members responsible for the motion to explore a membership vote, Beidel said, "They should let the collective bargaining process move forward."

NBC put its "final offer" into effect on June 29. The strikers make the point that if the network would just rescind this "implementation," the strikers could go back to work now and cover NBC with glory while negotiators haggled over unweaseling the wordage.

For the bonds of militant fraternity, of course, would redound to the network's benefit.

"These friends are gonna last," said cameraman Tony Palos, who'd always considered guys like Bruce Rheins "on the other side of the wall.

"That's one terrific thing about the strike," Palos went on. "There's a lot of people that do know each other now. And when we go back to work, there's going to be a better product."

Spies in the Press

We've stumbled on a new kind of media journalism in Spy magazine--the kind that looks at journalists the way they look at Gary Hart.

Within the department "Naked City," Spy's been running the wickedest stories about the New York Times. Former editor Abe Rosenthal, who now writes a column, "On My Mind," is a favored target--the August issue details Abe and the secretary "Madam X," Abe and his ex, the "long-suffering wife, Ann," and Abe and his new wife, "the bosomy dirty-book writer Shirley Lord."

"The article was instantly Xeroxed and everybody was fascinated," a Times staffer told us. "That it was shockingly disrespectful? Nobody in my corner of the office cared."

We telephoned Mr. Rosenthal. "Spy is one of the many magazines he doesn't get to," we were told.

We telephoned Spy and asked for the author of the piece, J.J. Hunsecker. We got a laugh. Then we got E. Graydon Carter, cofounder of Spy and coeditor with Kurt Andersen. Carter told us the name comes from the Walter Winchell-type character in the movie Sweet Smell of Success. (In fact, the byline changes from issue to issue.) He wouldn't tell us the writer's real name. "It would absolutely destroy his career," said Carter, because he still works at the Times.

Could we interview Mr. Hunsecker? No. His voice may be recognizable.

But Carter volunteered to be middleman, asking "Hunsecker" our questions and giving us his answers. We don't know if he was winging the whole thing, but he made a pretty good show of it the appointed day--pausing for long moments and giving us answers.

Hunsecker "told" us, "The Times has been dragging their employees around by the hair for the past 15 years. The Times has been Kremlin-like for the last 15 years. They have great influence over the city's culture and agenda, and in many cases they're undeserving of their positions.

"It's sort of righting old wrongs. . . . It's the way the Times covers the world. Thoroughly and without fear or favor." If there's no fear, why can't you use your real name? "If he ever writes a book or movie the Times won't review it," Carter said, after the usual pause. "The Times is the best paper in the country and you can't live without it if you're in this business. In a way, just having this column is a show of respect in itself."

We had another question. "He's gone," said Carter.

He told us the idea for spying on the Times came from Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner. So there are spies at Rolling Stone? "We have many. But crazy stories about Jann Wenner are a dime a dozen," said Carter. There are spies at Time? "We burn our bridges," said Carter, who worked there with Andersen.

Spies in Chicago? Bill Zehme wrote a wicked story on Oprah Winfrey, but that's his real name. (After reading "It Came From Chicago," Winfrey sent Zehme a note that read: "Dear Bill, I forgive you.")

And Spy did a photo essay on "the de-evolution of Bob Greene's hairpieces." But they got caught. Carter told us, "I think he knew something was amiss because we were calling all his old publishers for pictures of his hair. He called me . . . to tell me how much he likes me and always admired my work and what a great guy I was like we had been blood brothers. What an idiot," said Carter.

"Everyone is suspect. No one is safe."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Merideth.

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