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Who's Destroying Royko's Rep?

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Gays and Mike Royko share several of the same enemies. These include cement-headed thugs, fundamentalist bigots, officious hypocrites, and Mike Royko.

The blotto, belligerent Royko of last December 17, immortalized in a Winnetka police report that mysteriously burst into the public eye last week, was a gay's worst nightmare--and certainly his own. This is the Royko who, according to the report, pushed one cop in the chest and shouted, "Fuck you, fag. Get your fucking hands off me. Jag off, queer," and yelled at ambulance attendants trying to examine his bleeding head, "Get away from me! What are you--fags? Why are you wearing those fag gloves for?"

A copy of the report came in the mail two weeks ago to the Illinois Federation for Human Rights in Chicago. It had been stuffed into a plain, stamped envelope with a Chicago postmark and no return address. A plain white cover sheet began, "You may be interested . . . " Certain passages of the report were highlighted in yellow. Thinking he'd been singled out for special treatment, executive director Rick Garcia contacted Windy City Times and Outlines. But they already had copies. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation had a copy. A national gay paper, the Advocate, had a copy. So did tiny Babble and Gay Chicago. "They knew exactly who to send it to," Garcia said with some admiration. "The national gay press. The local gay press. They sent it to all the right places and all the right people."

But who sent it? Garcia told me what he'd been told by a reporter at one of the major TV shops in town, whose station also got a copy. "We know who it is," this reporter told Garcia. "It's the state's attorney."

A reporter at one of the other big TV news operations told me the same thing. This reporter said Jack O'Malley's people leak like the Titanic to serve O'Malley's interests, and they'd shipped over a copy of Royko's police report weeks ago. But the station didn't consider Royko's drunken ravings a news story.

What we may be looking at then is a two-pronged attack on Royko's public image. Prong one, directed at the mainstream media, struck silence. But prong two, aimed at gays and lesbians who didn't like Royko to begin with, hit pay dirt. Among other reactions, Windy City Times ran a page-one story last week, and Rick Garcia issued a press release announcing that he was urging the publisher of the Tribune "to take the strongest possible action against Mr. Royko's bigotry." He meant firing him. Garcia's announcement put Royko's language on TV and in the Sun-Times, if not the Tribune. The Tribune let Royko cover his latest troubles.

My own ears tell me that gays and lesbians are not genetically incapable of laughing at heteros' humor, yet Royko's often rubs them the wrong way. "Gay and lesbian groups have long accused Royko of homophobia," wrote Windy City Times reporter David Olson. "For example, in 1990, while ridiculing gay and lesbian pride parades, Royko wrote, "After all, the rest of the nation doesn't hold parades and cry: "Impotent pride" or "Premature ejaculation power."'

"In 1991, Royko discussed how gay men contract HIV, writing, "Love isn't an issue at all, unless you define love as having anal sex with a stranger in a bathhouse, which would be kind of stretching love's definition."'

Here are some other columns at which, perhaps, few gays guffawed.

In '92 Royko weighed in on the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Boston. "I suspect that the parade leaders are right: The gay marchers are more interested in advertising their gayness, and irritating devout straights, than they are in showing their love for the old sod. Other groups don't wave signs that say they are proud to be Irish and heterosexual, or Irish and impotent, or Irish and subject to premature ejaculation."

In '91 Royko paid tribute to a great athlete: "After the sexual revolution, the flower child drug revolution, the gays leaping out of their closets, athletes sniffing and snorting and being forgiven, and other American moral codes being tossed upside down and hither and yon, Hack Wilson's boozing didn't seem like that big a character flaw anymore."

In 1989 he "interviewed" Robin, who explained why he'd split with Batman and now had a job as a waiter. Robin was tired of living a lie. He wanted out of the closet, but Batman, aka millionaire Bruce Wayne, hesitated. "Bruce's parents are alive and retired in Palm Springs," Robin confided. "His dad invented the whoopee cushion and made a fortune. Of course, they don't see much of each other because the father is very conservative and doesn't approve of our lifestyle. One night he got drunk and phoned Bruce and yelled: "I just saw "Superman II" and he got it on with Lois Lane. And what do I have for a son? the Bat Fairy.' A very insensitive man."

I'd been asking around for examples of why gays don't like Royko. Someone I talked to must have decided to help me out. Obviously there was a computer search, and then the above columns on gays (and several others) were dropped off anonymously at my office. The cover letter was identical to the one Garcia got.

Here's a column too sly for the computer to retrieve. Royko may be incapable of writing about San Francisco without making a joke about effeminacy, and last January he argued that the Bears could upset the 49ers in the playoffs even though the 49ers were highly favored. "Until the fat lady sings, it isn't over," he cautioned. "And in San Francisco, he has yet to sing."

On May 16 Royko pleaded guilty to drunken driving and resisting arrest. He was fined $1,600, put on probation for two years, and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service. Three days later he produced a column mocking Jack O'Malley for "cracking down on men who have sex with underage females." Here was O'Malley, fearlessly assailing Mel Reynolds though he had nothing to gain except headlines. "The same devotion to justice has led to the prosecution of the following men for statutory rape," Royko continued. "Hmmmm, it seems I don't have a list. O'Malley's office couldn't provide one. The problem is that this outburst of zeal to nail male seducers seems to have begun with Reynolds."

Last Wednesday and Thursday Royko dished up more. "Here we have O'Malley devoting an incredible amount of manpower to proving . . . to proving what? That Mel Reynolds might be a horny guy?"

Then Rob Warden called me. Warden is O'Malley's executive assistant. "The timing is certainly interesting," Warden said. "Within about 48 hours of the sentencing he comes up with this column, which is absolutely unfounded by the way. We prosecute so-called statutory rape cases routinely, 500 a year at a minimum. We could provide a list--I have it right now--of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. That's one of the many charges against Mel Reynolds."

Royko's attack on O'Malley so soon after O'Malley's office had prosecuted him looked blatantly vindictive. And when the police report showed up everywhere a few days later it was easy to assume this was O'Malley getting even. Warden's reason for calling was to deny any responsibility for the report's sudden circulation.

"It could have been somebody in O'Malley's office, but not me, [press secretary Andy] Knott, Jack, or somebody under us," Warden said. "There are 1,800 people in this office, and when Royko starts attacking the office he can piss off all sorts of people."

Royko told me, "This was not some clerk sitting around. I think I know who it is."

I told Royko what Warden had said.

"I have sources that say just the opposite. And it wasn't Andy Knott."

Warden then?

"Sure. I don't know what you have a guy like that around for."

Coauthor of a book that savages the prosecution of the Dowaliby case, Warden's a muckraking former editor of Chicago Lawyer and a onetime reporter at the old Chicago Daily News, where he was Royko's colleague and friend.

"That's stunning. That really stuns me," Warden said.

If Royko's timetable is accurate, vengeance is less a factor in this saga than the ancient desire of powerful men to humiliate one another. Royko said he'd been wanting for some time to attack O'Malley over the Reynolds case, and simply felt bound to wait until after his own sentencing. "I can't write about the guy when he's involved in prosecuting me." And long before he'd written a word against O'Malley his police report was being marketed. "The secretary of state's office was trying to peddle it five months ago," Royko told me. "They were urging reporters to go over and take a look at it." Royko said Secretary of State George Ryan "called me when he found out about it. He'd told them to stop it."

Ryan was out of state, and I couldn't reach him. But a spokesman said Ryan and Royko had had a conversation on the subject. He also said Ryan's office wouldn't normally possess a police report so soon after a DUI arrest.

Last Friday Royko's column acknowledged the sudden flare-up over his police report. "How," he wondered, "did every news shop in town and some in New York and San Francisco suddenly get copies of a report that had been gathering dust all these months." He wondered why reporters weren't telling that part of the story. At any rate--so he explained to alter ego Slats Grobnik--he'd merely been conducting research, testing the Winnetka police to measure "their discipline and restraint under stress." And later testing the judge to see if he'd be "stern but fair."

This charming exercise, with its nonsensical suggestion that Royko's differences with gays are limited to the question of whether they should be allowed into the military, reminded me of his equally charming column laughing off what he'd written right after the Oklahoma City bombing. America should pick out a country "that is a likely suspect" and bomb it, Royko had recommended. "If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad."

Royko's verbal nimbleness has served him well in his jousts against big folk who menace the small. Too often he now wields it to climb down off the narrow ledges where he's put himself.

Royko explained, "If you want to offend cops what do you say--"You're acting like a bully'? I probably found the best way to get macho cops mad."

Do you owe gays an apology? I asked.

"I don't think so. I apologized to the cops. They're the ones I offended. What if I'd called the judges a bunch of fat asses? Would I owe an apology to everyone obese?

"If gays and lesbians think they deserve an apology, OK, I apologize."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Tappin.

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