After three decades in which the term “liberal Democratic media” has come to seem an almost complete redundancy, many students of American journalism today are no doubt stunned to learn that, prior to the 1960’s, this nation’s printed press was regarded by most prominent liberals and Democrats as a bastion of conservatism and Republicanism. When it came to the Chicago Tribune, at least, they had it right. Under the direction of its legendary publisher Colonel Robert McCormick, the Tribune was not simply the leading voice of Midwestern conservatism, it actually came to be, in many ways, Illinois’ Republican moral equivalent of the Chicago Democratic bossocracy. This went beyond McCormick’s FDR-bashing throughout the New Deal, the infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline of 1948, or even the fact that in 1964—nine years after the Colonel’s death—the Tribune was one of only three major dailies in the nation to endorse Barry Goldwater over Lyndon B. Johnson. The newspaper was itself a prime mover and shaker in Illinois Republican politics, often capable of making GOP candidates—and breaking those it did not like. In 1967, the token Republican candidate for mayor of Chicago, unable to mount an effective campaign after the Tribune endorsed Mayor Richard J. Daley—who was actually the more conservative of the two—groused to columnist Mike Royko that “the Trib runs the Republican Party in this state, so what could I do?” Even as late as 1970, Royko—then writing for a now-defunct competitor—could complain in his anti- Daley book Boss that the Tribune “has one reporter who does nothing but ferret out supposed left-wing involvement in the membership of any organization it dislikes.” Ah, for the good old days of investigative reporting.
But now, in Clinton’s America and in the girlhood hometown of Clinton’s wife, we have, as Bill and Hillary might put it, change. After moving slowly but steadily leftward both in its news coverage and on its editorial page for most of the Reagan and Bush years, the Chicago Tribune has, in the Clinton era, purged the last of its conservative Republican heritage with a vengeance and become every bit as much a member of the liberal establishment media as the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and the TV networks. Or how else would you put it when, in the weeks before Clinton took office, a theater reviewer led off his article on a play entitled A Beggar’s Holiday by harrumphing; “What with relief in Somalia and summits in Little Rock and twinkly lights on Michigan Avenue, a person could start thinking that maybe the 80’s are truly over. Maybe rapacity’s run its course for the time being, and everyone will start looking out for one another again.” Or when a front-page story on Michael Jordan’s impact on the Chicago-area economy began like this: “Trickle-down economics may not necessarily have worked in the Reagan-Bush era, but something very much like it seems to be happening in the Chicago region these days.” Or when a guest columnist in the paper’s business section predicted a revival of Keynesian economics, no less: “Keynesian ideas didn’t go away in the face of the New Classical assault [italics mine]. They deepened, became subtler, sought to cope with the criticisms that had been made of them. . . . President Clinton’s heart is so palpably in the right place that it is hard to fault him for execution.” Or when the obituary of a top lieutenant in the African National Congress, whose primary sponsor and financier was the Soviet Union, was headlined: “ANC activist Oliver Tambo dies. Stroke claims towering hero of 30-year fight for freedom.” Or when, after 60 percent of House Democrats stiffed Bill Clinton on NAFTA—leaving him to be rescued by the 75 percent of House Republicans who voted for it—the banner front-page headline declared, without a trace of irony, “Clinton’s NAFTA triumph.”
Inanities such as these seem all but certain to fill the pages of the Chicago Tribune for many years to come, given the makeup of the paper’s editorial staff—now grown top-heavy, in the manner of most contemporary major media, with 60’s kids steeped in the politics of racial and ethnic consciousness, gender warfare, sex habits, and victimology, who interpret the presence in the White House of their counterculture contemporaries and soulmates, the Clintons, as vindication of their own political beliefs. Almost 40 years after Colonel McCormick, the Tribune man best known to the nation is Clarence Page, a Washington-based syndicated columnist and sometime talking-head on The McLaughlin Group, where he serves as spokesman for the usual agenda of the left-liberal black political establishment. There are also locally prominent political reporters such as Steve Daley, who scarcely seems able to write his weekly opinion column without making a gratuitous reference to “that radio smartypants. Rush Limbaugh,” and Jon Margolis, who complained that Limbaugh’s airing of the House Bank scandal had caused “undiscriminating disdain toward all elected officials.” (Margolis has also publicly pooh-poohed the Arkansas state troopers’ revelations about Bill Clinton’s past marital infidelities as an unfortunate example of investigative journalism gone too far.)
Also locally prominent, and with national exposure of her own, is Carol Kleiman, an “employment specialist” within the paper’s business section who relentlessly pursues a hard-left feminist agenda through articles ad nauseam about “employment discrimination,” “comparable worth” pay schemes, the Clintons’ socialized medicine boondoggle, and, of course, sexual harassment and Anita Hill—who, Kleiman has acknowledged in print, never did prove her accusations against Justice Clarence Thomas, but whom she nevertheless describes as “heroic.” Indeed, not just Kleiman but several other female Tribune staffers seem to have been given free rein in recent years to conduct a long-term feminist jihad from Tribune Tower. Many of them now produce the Sunday section “WOMANEWS,” a onetime lifestyle section awkwardly transmogrified into little more than a weekly feminist screed. Also in the girls’ clubhouse is gossipmonger Dorothy Collin, who uses her daily “INC.” column as a poorly disguised p.r. vehicle from which to promote pro-feminist liberal Democratic politicians and the Hollywood bubblebrains who bankroll them and to tweak any conservative Republicans who might make things uncomfortable for them.
And, of course, there are the gays. Nowhere has the recent lunge of the Tribune toward the loony-fringe left been so brazen—or so painful to so many of the paper’s longtime subscribers—as in its perfervid embrace of the militant “gay rights” movement. Indeed, the Tribune‘s coverage of issues and events of concern to militant homosexuals has, in the Clinton era, become so voluminous, so prominently displayed, and so relentlessly supportive of the militant homosexual agenda as to constitute not simply “support” of Chicago’s organized “gay community” but out-and-out advocacy.
That there is a large, wealthy, and politically organized “gay community” in Chicago these days is an undeniable fact—if not a point of pride among most Chicagoans. It first came into Chicago politics in a major way with the late Mayor Harold Washington, who found it a useful ally in his always tenuous voting majority; he created a “Mayor’s Committee on Cay and Lesbian Issues” and a full-time “Gay/Lesbian Coordinator” in Chicago city government. Mayor Richard M. Daley, campaigning to succeed Washington, decided to embrace gingerly the organized homosexual community rather than risk defeat by mobilizing their votes and money against him in a close race—despite the unconscionably rude treatment to which many “gay activists” had subjected him. Especially memorable was a 1989 confrontation in which some of them told Daley—who lost a three-year-old son to spina bifida in the 1970’s—that “he doesn’t know what it’s like to have a deadly disease.” “I have a child who died of an illness!” Daley shouted back at them. “Are you insinuating that I’m not human?” The response of the “gay activists,” when he then stormed out of their meeting, was to chant, “Shame, shame, shame!”
That chilling episode was proudly recalled in the Tribune‘s Sunday magazine just three weeks after Bill Clinton’s inauguration in a feature story entitled “Gays and Lesbians in Chicago: Into the Mainstream.” Written not by a Tribune staffer but by Grant Pick, a writer for the counterculture weekly Chicago Reader, the article boasted that “violence and intolerance have produced a new generation of in-your-face activists who challenge head-on what they perceive as bias.” Pick quoted a leader of ACT-UP named Tim Miller, who defended outbursts such as the one to which Rich Daley was subjected. “To get things accomplished, we have to embarrass people. If you don’t criticize, and many times loudly, politicians will think there’s nothing to improve on . . . we have to get over being nice-nice to politicians.” Nowhere in Pick’s report was an opinion expressed, by anyone, that perhaps such tactics ought not to be employed in civilized discourse—especially not against a man who lost a son to a deadly disease that is not behaviorally based and receives far less public attention and funding than AIDS.
Pick also justified the incredibly promiscuous and risky sexual behavior of the 1970’s that led directly to AIDS by quoting a Chicago bar owner named Art Johnston, who “acknowledged that the early bar scene, redolent with sex, led inexorably to the scourge of AIDS. But he sees the time as having its virtues: ‘Sure we had our excesses, but the sex was more than just physical acts. We were a minority, coming out and being one with our own. The sex was as political as the black athlete standing at the Olympics in Mexico City (in 1968) with his fist in the air.'” Nowhere in Pick’s report did anyone question the wisdom of regarding sex of any kind as a “political act”—particularly the kind that results in the epidemic spread of a killer disease.
The pattern was repeated almost three months later, when the Tribune lionized the April 25, 1993, Gay Rights March on Washington. “Gays take fight for dignity to D.C.,” blared the banner front-page headline. Reporter Flynn McRoberts began his story, “Bleary-eyed from a fitful night’s sleep aboard a crowded bus, Jana Johnson was still ready to seize the day. ‘This is my time, a time for me to get recognized as a human being just like any other,’ said the 23-year-old college student from Chicago, one of a group of 45 gays and lesbians . . . for them, Sunday will be the first opportunity to fight for dignity on such a grand scale. For them, Sunday will be their chance to make their voices heard.” McRoberts described another female student “proudly sporting her ‘Dyke,’ ‘Baby Butch’ and ‘Out Is In’ buttons” and quoted a third student as saying that his father, “a lifelong Republican, voted for Clinton . . . because of the gay rights issue.” The Republican National Convention, McRoberts informed us, “with its diatribes against the gay and lesbian community, clinched his father’s vote.” Nowhere in McRoberts’ story were there any differing opinions of the march—or of the Republican Convention, for that matter.
Then there was the flap over Colorado’s Amendment Two, passed by a small majority of that state’s voters at the same time they were giving a plurality to Clinton, to amend the state constitution so as to disallow so-called “anti-discrimination” ordinances with regard to sexual orientation. Interest in this story among most Chicagoans was, to put it mildly, fleeting at best, but the Tribune spent more than a year making a federal case out of it, often on the front page. “Gays consider Colorado boycott,” trumpeted a page one headline a few days after the election. Two weeks later came another front-pager headlined “Colorado paying for anti-gay stance,” warning darkly of canceled conventions and ski trips. Then came 1993, with not only the same numbers of conventioneers and skiers as before, but also 4.5 million baseball fans storming Mile High Stadium to watch the Colorado Rockies; about 375,000 religious pilgrims and curiosity-seekers flooding into Denver to see Pope John Paul II; and, yes, tens of thousands of Rush Limbaugh fans jamming Fort Collins for “Dan’s Bake Sale”—thus making the busy-body editors of the Chicago Tribune look quite foolish. The editors did not take the hint. After a Colorado state judge ruled Amendment Two unconstitutional in December, the Tribune promptly responded on its editorial page with what can only be described as a hysterical shriek in praise of the imperial judiciary and its ability to negate the wishes of the voters. “A setback for intolerance,” bellowed the headline above the editorial. Asserting fatuously that “one of the latest political fads is limiting the rights of homosexuals,” the Tribune contemptuously declared that “getting the approval of the voters is one thing and getting the approval of the judiciary is another.” The amendment, we were informed, “targets one historically mistreated class of people and says that they alone—of all the potential groups in society—may not be shielded against discrimination . . . whatever the ruling’s fate in the realm of jurisprudence, it ought to make Coloradans rethink a policy that can only be viewed as bigoted and intolerant.”
Whatever happened to the view that under the American system of government and jurisprudence rights inhere in individuals, not “groups” or “classes”? What about those voters who are not convinced that homosexuals have, in fact, been sufficiently “victimized” to require special legal protection? And what about those who are simply weary of being continually assaulted in the public arena by a tiny minority aggressively flaunting behavior that most people consider to be a vice and attempting to cloak it in the robes of virtue? No answer from the Chicago Tribune. “Whether anti-gay rights measures are bad law will have to be decided by the courts,” its editorial concluded. “That they are bad policy ought to be clear to all.” Translation: either you see things our way, or you are evil. Just the kind of attitude, in other words, that the Tribune thinks everyone had at the Republican National Convention.
As the whole country knows by now, Chicago’s Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, the previously almighty chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, found himself in the fight of his political life in Illinois’ March 15 primary elections. The House Post Office scandal and other “appearances of impropriety” had left Rosty in such desperate straits that two weeks before the election—on a day when American warplanes were flying over Bosnia—President Clinton made a special trip to Chicago to beg the Democrats of Illinois’ 5th Congressional District to send Rosty back to Washington for the 19th straight time. In the end, they did, giving him just over half the votes in a five-man race—after a crack rescue squad headed by a former Illinois state senator close to the Daleys spent over a month administering CPR to what otherwise might well have become Chicago’s newest and biggest political corpse. As one of the ex-state senator’s underlings bragged after the votes were counted, “I don’t think we have seen anything like it since the late Mayor Daley was alive . . . every single political contact, every single friendship, every single effort was used to bring out the vote for Danny.”
One of the most enthusiastic friends of Danny this time around was the Chicago Tribune—the very same Chicago Tribune that used to hold the old Democratic “Machine” of the first Mayor Daley and Dan Rostenkowski at arm’s length. The Tribune even went so far as to complain in its editorial endorsement that the investigation of Rostenkowski “was tainted by a publicity-hungry (Republican) prosecutor who seemed intent on indicting the high-powered chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the press if he couldn’t get him indicted by a grand jury.” The investigation, the Tribune sniffed, had obscured Rosty’s “extraordinary accomplishments and considerable influence.” “If the voters chew him up and spit him out,” the editorial warned, “they lose the person who is far and away their most reliable source for the federal dollars that build and repair their bridges and roads, that erect their affordable housing, that put many Illinoisans to work. . . . He is in the very top reaches of Washington influence, and he wields it with relish and savvy on behalf of the people of his district, his city, his state, and the nation.” Translation: if he is crooked, so what? He brings home the pork, so vote for him anyway.
The Tribune‘s cheerleading was not restricted to the editorial page, either. When Bill Clinton came to Chicago to help pull Rostenkowski out of the quicksand, reporters Hanke Gratteau and Mitchell Locin tagged along to get their hands on the rope, too. Dutifully reporting Clinton’s ruse that his appearance with Rostenkowski at a Chicago community college was “not political,” nor even a formal endorsement of Rosty over his four Democratic challengers, Gratteau and Locin nevertheless wasted no time in getting Clinton’s “non-endorsement” message to the Tribunes readers. “Banging on the lectern, Clinton declared that without the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, ‘We would not have done the things that were done which have got this economy . . . moving into the future. And we will not be able to do the things we have to do to meet our obligations to the future in this coming year, in health care, welfare reform and many other areas,’ the president added as several hundred students and faculty cheered.” Gratteau and Locin made no mention at all of the two-year-long federal investigation of Rostenkowski until halfway through their story, on the following page, and then did away with it in two short paragraphs.
Amid all of the Rostenkowski boosterism, however, at least one Tribune man remained aggressively unimpressed—Mike Royko. Chicago’s premier columnist for the past 30 years, Royko is one of the last true greats of the last generation of newspaper writers whose education consisted primarily of street-smarts, as opposed to ivory-tower agitprop. He has always been, in the Chicago context, a “reform” Democrat (though never a true left-wing ideologue) who made his career by lampooning the excesses of the first Mayor Daley and numerous other old-line “Machine” creatures—including Rostenkowski —while at the same time berating Colonel McCormick’s old paper and most Republicans and conservatives with equal vigor. After three decades at three different newspapers, Royko has endured long enough to witness both the steep decline of the “Machine” and the death of the McCormick-style Tribune. But now, after spending the last decade at Tribune Tower himself, Royko has begun to seem as strangely out of place under the current Tribune editors as he would have been under the Colonel and his immediate successors.
The Rostenkowski story was a perfect illustration—Royko deftly puncturing his bosses’ balloon of hot air with nothing more than simple common sense and blunt honesty. How did Rosty feel about Bill Clinton coming to his rescue? “I didn’t ask him, so I don’t know,” Royko wrote. “But I’ll tell you how he should feel. He should be embarrassed, humiliated, and feel like a damn fool. Rostenkowski is one of the most powerful men in the Congress . . . all things considered, the president of the United States should not be needed to come in here and act as a precinct captain to get Danny reelected to his umpteenth term. The president of the United States—even a questionable character from Arkansas—shouldn’t have to come here to plead for Rostenkowski votes.” A questionable character from Arkansas! That’s the kind of delicious heresy that almost nobody else at the Tribune would be allowed to get away with today.
But it’s not the first time. Royko has also steadfastly refused to hop onto his employer’s militant gay-rights bandwagon. He scoffed, for example, at the Gay Rights March on Washington and also came out against Clinton’s proposed lifting of the ban on open homosexuals in the military. “There’s nothing wrong with change if it has a positive purpose,” Royko wrote at the time. “This doesn’t. Gay obsessives have an agenda: total social acceptance. And they are using the military ban as a blue chip in their poker game.” For comments like this, Royko has caught some heat from many of Chicago’s own gay obsessives, who apparently view it as something akin to treason for such opinions to appear in what they have come to regard more and more as “their” newspaper.
Are there no dissenters besides Royko to this headlong drive of the Tribune toward Village Voice-style left/liberal orthodoxy? Well, maybe a few—very few. Columnists Joan Beck and Stephen Chapman often provide the editorial page with a lonely island of reason in a sea of psychobabble. Some of the business writers still appear to prefer the free market to economic statism. And if you want to include the sports pages, outdoors writer and columnist John Husar sometimes attracts brickbats from environmentalist extremists and “animal rights” advocates for his staunch defense of hunters.
But that’s about it. At the Chicago Tribune—renowned in all the journalism history books for its kamikaze conservative Republicanism—Mike Royko, God love him, is winding up his illustrious career as one of the closest things there is anymore to a conservative, whether he likes it or not. As for almost all the rest of his colleagues, they bear a much greater resemblance to one of the newest nationally syndicated columnists to be added to the Tribune editorial page—Anna Quindlen.
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