To the editors:
Not only does Chicago Sun-Times political editor Steve Neal embody the seven virtues catalogued by Michael Miner in his "Park Polemics: Why Is This Man Ranting?" (Hot Type, Sept. 1). Sure, Neal's a troubadour of "inanity," "sentimentality," and "sarcasm." Sure, Neal's standard of journalistic professionalism includes such staples as his "carefree research," an "eye for detail," and a "contribution to class warfare." And Neal certainly does expound some really peachy keen, "progressive notions of what the parks need," say, for example, his belief that the parks need to return to the days of Edmund Kelly's Patronage Army.
But Neal also embodies something else that I've been waiting since last April 21 to bring to the reading public's attention: A GOONISM runs down Neal's back as thick as the stripe on a skunk. For it was last April 21 that readers of The Sun-Times were treated to Neal's "Tearful eulogies wasted on a bum--Abbie Hoffman," an unforgivably venomous piece in which Neal first circled his prey, then swooped in for a kill that had been made that much easier by the fact of the late Hoffman's earlier suicide.
This utterly gratuitous attack on Hoffman exemplified everything for which Neal stands. Evidently, the affectations of statism are chic once again, after a brief but instructive interregnum in the sixties and seventies. But Neal's Abbie Hoffman was a mere price tag. What Neal was really after was to depreciate activism in general, including attempts by ordinary citizens like you and me to understand, address, and change the gross shortcomings of our "democracy," especially its power structure, wherein effective authority lies, and the disastrous foreign policies it spawns and will continue to spawn, insofar as it remains intact.
Well, as Miner's assessment of "Steve Neal's crusade against Park District reformers" made clear, much of the same anti-populism motivates Neal's assault on local political activism--even that garden variety type in which Friends of the Parks engage. Now if there were a real commitment to democracy in this country, and if the press truly served to articulate that level of opinion addressed to the public on issues relating to democracy (etc.), then the activism of Friends of the Parks (or of an Abbie Hoffman, for that matter) would be treated as a trophy of our popular sovereignty, not as a demerit to be held against us. On the other hand, activism clearly strikes Neal as dark and threatening--an indication, no doubt, of the level of total obedience expected in that social order for which the press functions as something of a mid-level, ideological manager, ready to lash out at and curb any movements deemed too excessive from the standpoint of the authority it serves.