Oh, what to do? | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Oh, what to do?

One leftie’s complicated relationship with the Chicago Tribune

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As one great Tribune journalist after another took the hedge fund’s buyout and walked out the door, I found myself facing a great decision . . .

Do I continue my daily subscription to the Chicago Tribune?

I realize this is the quintessential baby boomer dilemma. Millennials must be laughing at the notion that someone subscribes to a newspaper, much less agonizes over giving up that subscription.

Actually, youngsters, I subscribe to three daily papers—the Tribune, Sun-Times, and the New York Times. They’re tossed on my porch every morning by a delivery man who gets up way earlier than I do—that’s for sure.

My love for the Sun-Times goes back to the 1960s when I was a kid growing up in Evanston. I read its sports pages before I went to school.

But the Tribune? Well, that’s a more complicated relationship.

I grew up in a family of New Deal Democrats. As a collective unit, we hated the Tribune. As we saw it, the Tribune was owned by mindlessly flag-waving, America-love-it-or-leave-it, right-wing Republicans. It was like that damn paper was put on earth to torment us.

Did we subscribe to the Tribune? Hell, no. Wouldn’t be caught dead with that right-wing rag in our house. We got the Sun-Times home-delivered in the morning, the Daily News in the afternoon, and on her way to work my mom bought the New York Times at the newsstand at Main and Chicago.

As far as we were concerned, the Tribune was on the wrong side of every issue.

Just how wrong was not apparent to me until much later—in the early 1980s—when I started covering politics in Chicago. I spent hours going through old clippings in the Municipal Reference Library in City Hall—to study up on all the things that happened in the years before I was alive or paying attention.

Reading those old stories, I couldn’t believe how anti-Black, anti-hippie, pro-war, and pro-Nixon the Tribune was. Not just in their editorials, but even in some of their news coverage.

For instance, they actually championed the official version of what happened the night in 1969 when cops killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

If you read the Tribune’s version, you’d think the Panthers fired at the cops and the cops killed them in self-defense. As opposed to what it really was—a cold-blooded execution sanctioned by the state.

In the 1980s, I started subscribing to the Tribune on the grounds that I needed to read it to understand how Chicago worked. Guess I got to thank them for that. If you want to know how corporate Chicago views the world, read the Tribune’s editorials.

More tax breaks for the rich. Less social programs for the poor. Stop coddling criminals. Break unions. Especially the teachers union. Make it harder to sue corporations. Send Republicans to Congress and Springfield, and keep the Daleys in City Hall.

Again, I’m speaking of their editorial voice—not the news coverage, which was balanced. For all their Republicanism, for all their professed disdain for the Democratic machine, they cozied up to the Daleys—daddy and son. 

Yes, they endorsed Harold Washington in 1983 when he ran against Bernie Epton, a Republican. But they were so patronizing about it—like they thought they deserved a medal for endorsing a Democrat. Even though, as I said, they’d been endorsing Richard J. Daley for years.

And they were so condescending to Washington when he was mayor. As though they were saying, in so many words: OK Mr. Black Man, you wanted to be mayor so much. Now, go solve crime!

Listen, as you all know, I think that Mayor Lightfoot should apologize to Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor for the disrespectful way she recently walked across the council floor to chastise her.

But I must concede Mayor Lightfoot has a point when she says the papers—at least, the Tribune—never made a big deal about the shitty attitudes and bully tactics of Chicago’s white mayors. They helped perpetuate the myth that it takes a mean-tempered Boss to keep Chicago from turning into Detroit. It’s a myth we struggle with to this day.

And yet . . .

I despise what the new owner—Alden Global Capital—is doing to the Tribune by pushing so many talented journalists out the door. I don’t want the paper to die. In many ways, its news coverage is outstanding—especially in City Hall and on the environment. Those editorials are still an abomination, but they brought in a few liberals to diversify the opinion page. Most Tribune staffers weren’t even around back in the bad old days of the Tribune’s right-wing ragdom. So, I really want to support the writers and editors still working there.

Especially since we’re in the same union. That’s right. Colonel McCormick must be turning in his grave because the Tribune’s editorial staff is unionized. And they’re a pretty courageous bunch at that.

But here’s the problem . . .

That new owner is looking to take advantage of my loyalties.

Until recently, my subscription helped support people whose work I admired—like Eric Zorn, Mary Schmich, Dahleen Glanton, Heidi Stevens, or Shannon Ryan. And so forth.

But Alden essentially bribed these higher-paid writers into leaving.

And now more of my subscription will be going to Alden. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to take the money they saved on salaries to give remaining staffers a raise. Or to hire new staffers. Or cut subscription costs. Or whatever.

No, they’re gonna put that money in their pockets. In short, they’re going to exploit my love for newspapers and my loyalty to the Tribune staffers to make even more money for themselves. And, people, I don’t know if I want to enable them.

So here I am. Not sure what to do. One way or another, I’m still being tormented by the Tribune.  v

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