A Windy Nation Newsletter: Politics and Media, ed. 1.

It’s a metaphor. Storm cloud photo by Don Harder via Flickr under Creative Commons.

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Adapt or die, as they say. Awhile back I experimented with a newsletter focused on my main area of journalism here in Chicago: criminal justice. There were weeks it did OK, but, ultimately, what I discovered is that there are a number of good sources that compile this area of coverage, and they already do it well. Chicago Magazine compiles the top reads of the week, a good portion of which have a criminal justice or crime focus. View from the Ground, the Invisible Institute’s compilation of criminal justice news from around the state, also does an excellent job. On the national level, I trust Marshall Project as a guide. I’d encourage you to follow all of them, and there are plenty of others I’ll leave out for the sake of brevity.

What I think Illinois and my native and current home, Chicago, is missing is a voice on media and, to a lesser degree, an across-the-board compendium of political news, in an easy-to-absorb format that gives readers what they need to know from the past week, or takes a step back from some of the big news. Decision-makers, policy wonks and the rest of us can fly from moment to moment or week to week without digesting the lessons of what happened just days earlier. I hope this can put on the brakes, offer some insight and get some of those brain juices flowing.

Of course, politics and the media are also where my experience and interest lie, and I’ll throw in a dose of criminal justice reporting because it is central to my own work here and for anything Chicago-centric. I hope it’s a natural fit and adds value across the board. And I’ll experiment with the format to see what works best.

As always, send me your thoughts.

The Big Guys: major political and state news from Washington and Chicago from the gray ladies.

More yet to break this ‘morn but here’s what we know so far: The Department of Justice may find a way to crack down on the Chicago Police Department, the Sun-Times reports. The city finds out the results of a months-long Justice Department investigation into the so-called “patterns and practices” of CPD.

The Trib already hails the agreement as a “landmark” for Chicago, which, for years, denied and covered up myriad issues.

I documented one of Justice’s many community meetings for City Bureau, and I didn’t walk away impressed. The meeting was held on the Near West Side — not exactly the heart of the communities most affected — and most people who voiced their opinion were activists. That said, CPD’s issues are well-known and, frankly, well-documented already. The DOJ coming up with a list of needed reforms and a sweeping diagnosis of the problem is a good start and could aid in litigation down the road, regardless of what the feds do under Trump.

From the Sun-Times:

Rather, what is on the table is a deal for the city and the feds to sign an “agreement in principle.” Such a pact, made with community input, would create a federal court-enforceable path forward that addresses the feds’ findings.

Then there was this late Thursday, with a thorough report from the Trib.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to realize his future is at least partially pegged to his success in overcoming these issues, a salve for local activists.

Tim Sfondeles of the Sun-Times aptly breaks down the forever-continuing (well, from 2015) budget impasse that has schools, social service agencies and pretty much everyone else in a perpetual scramble. Here’s the nuts and bolts, per Sfondeles:

  • Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, filed a proposal that would give social-services programs $258 million and higher-education programs $400 million.
  • That money would include a full semester for MAP grants for all colleges, universities and community colleges, as well as funds for adult, vocational education and GED programs, according to Harris.
  • Between the lines: The Sun-Times notes that Rauner is “a wealthy businessman” and won’t sign off until the budget deal includes a curb on union power and other business regulatory reform. Rep. Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, won’t consider anything but dollars and cents. The unspoken deal breaker, as in nearly any Springfield impasse: can these two big power players and personalities make a deal?
  • Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown surmises a future where neither Rauner nor Madigan survive. I’d like to see someone game out the Rs winning the IL House in the age of Trump. Unlikely. All politics, it seems more and more, are really national.

The Guardian, and this is worth considering again if you haven’t seen it, dove into shooting stats to depict a predictable if dour picture of violence in America. Gun violence in particular is confined to small geographic areas — the Guardian’s smartly designed piece allows you to see this emphatically.

Gun violence is a regressive tax that falls heaviest on neighborhoods already struggling with poverty, unemployment, and failing schools. The unequal burden of violence is also marked by intense racial disparities.
“It’s not about race, per se, it’s about how other conditions are racialized, are racially inequitable,” said Lauren Krivo, a Rutgers University sociologist who studies the geography of race and crime.

There is one big issue: the headline. It reads, “Want to fix gun violence in America? Go local.” National laws and court precedent often have far more bearing on the availability of guns and other social ills than local or state law. Chicago is a great case, with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, a favorite trope for the right, even though numerous studies show countries with stricter gun regulations have fewer gun crime and deaths. Guns flood in from Indiana and other states with lax or non-existent regulation.

Liberals seem convinced that Trump will get impeached. I missed these comments from DNC-chair hopeful Keith Ellison when he was in Chicago before the New Year. “The fact of the matter is he is a walking, talking conflict of interest which is why he has not been transparent and which is why instead of draining the swamp he’s filling it worse. So I think he will be held accountable and if he lasts four years, I’d be a little surprised,” Ellison said. (Tribune)

There are lots of new taxes and fees for Chicago residents to look forward to this year. (Tribune)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner gave himself $50 million for his re-election bid. That may scare off more than a few looking to challenge him. (Tribune).

Washington

What a week in our nation’s capital, where it seems the new normal is to wonder just how far we’ve slid down the rabbit hole. To say that Buzzfeed broke journalistic norms by publishing an unverified, sensational document is to say the least about this whole sordid affair. It’s hard to feel sorry for Donald Trump, who has repeatedly lied (objectively) and smeared opponents and critics or even just regular people if they dare cross him.

That doesn’t mean journalists, who rank somewhere near Charles Manson and Congress in popularity, should publish an unverified report produced by a partisan firm hiring a former British intelligence agent. This was justified, in part, by the fact that the report was presented to both Obama and Trump.

But it seems it was presented in a different form to POTUS AND PEOTUS.

Provocateur Michael Tracey presented arguments as to why Buzzfeed might have been justified in publishing the reports. But part of the wind came out of those sails once he asked Jake Tapper on Twitter whether the whole report was actually presented to Obama and Trump.

I’m sure I missed many of the takes on this whole thing, hot or no, but Philip Bump at WaPo had a smart response about how society is dealing with, essentially, too much information.

We’re still new at this “everyone can access everything and draw their own conclusions” thing, clearly, and, for all of his frustrations today, it has largely served to Trump’s benefit. The “fake news” ecosystem in which website publish nonsense to drive ad revenue is the most extreme version of the problem.
But it is by no means the whole problem.

The Wall Street Journal first revealed the former spy who compiled the report. What newsworthy justification do they have for putting the former agent and his family at risk? The story is about whether claims of Trump colluding with the Russians to rig the election and other sordid affairs are true. To me, it simply reeks of news orgs being beat on a story — by CNN and Buzzfeed — and responding with a “scoop” of their own.

The WSJ article also points to a big problem in our politics: untraceable donations and expenses.

No presidential campaigns or super PACs reported payments to Orbis [the name of the spy’s company] in their required Federal Election Commission filings. But several super PACs over the course of the campaign reported that they paid limited liability companies, whose ultimate owners may be difficult or impossible to discern.

Meryl Streep emerged as a defender of the press and press freedom during a speech criticizing Donald Trump at the Golden Globes. Of course, this will only lend credence to the right’s insistence that the media is just a bunch of left-wing brainwashers, or that the left and Hollywood use the media as a personal PR machine.

Ultimately, the media is big business, and those values are represented more often than not, until awards season at least. I am not one of those that thinks the media, traditional or not, is beyond reproach and we all better support our local newspaper or else. “We” need to improve — more quality, less clickbait, fewer “unnamed sources close to the mayor/governor/president,” simply printing what the government wants us to... for starters. But I would hope we come to a point that no matter our political position, we can at least acknowledge on the political right and left that the Fourth Estate serves a vital role.

Howard Kurtz, a respected voice of media and now a FOX host , argues Streep was out of line. “More fundamentally, whether it’s actors or singers or NFL quarterbacks, I think the country is growing weary of political diatribes being injected into entertainment events. They have every right to speak out, of course, but to do it before a mass audience tuning in for an awards show feels a little bit like hijacking the event,” he writes.

To me, it’s a strange argument: anyone has the right to weigh in but not at the moment you have the spotlight? Kurtz knows more about PR than that.

The most direct beneficiary of Streep’s comments: the Committee to Protect Journalists. Yay. (Poynter)

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan argues we simply do away with the term “fake news.” Hoax or conspiracy theory probably works better. David Uberti at Columbia Journalism Review says recent mistakes, particularly from the Washington Post, have further eroded people’s trust in the media and journos should focus on that, not fake news.

Trump’s son-in-law will take a senior White House role (AP). New buzzword for 2017: Conflict-of-interest. Big question for the media: Is there true consensus that conflict-of-interest laws don’t apply to the president? If Congress decided at some point that they do in a specific situation, would that not be a problem for PEOTUS Trump? Put another way: even if conflicts-of-interest laws do not specifically apply to the POTUS, the conflicts themselves could lead to self enrichment from official actions that would certainly test legal boundaries if not outright break the law and lead to impeachment. See line from AP story and everywhere else:

“The law requires Kushner to take more significant steps to detangle his business interests than Trump, given that conflict of interest laws largely do not apply to the president.

Deep dive: Supporters of Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator and AG nominee, are bringing up the civil rights prosecution Sessions was involved with in 1982 as evidence, basically, that he’s not a racist. The Atlantic looks deep at the case and found that the truth about Sessions’ role is more complicated.

Trump’s nominees continue. This gem from this morning’s NYT political newsletter:

In their first week of grilling before congressional panels, the president-elect’s cabinet nominees have broken with him on almost every major policy that has put Mr. Trump outside Republican orthodoxy, particularly in the area of national security.

Major media news from around Chicago and the state.

In many ways our news is becoming more European in that the normal filter for violence has disappeared. The Facebook live video that featured a group of teens kidnapping and beating up a white guy (it is being investigated as a hate crime) was aired, in some cases unaltered, far and wide. I remember being shocked when I was in Spain in 2005 that the news featured especially gory coverage of the Madrid bombing. So it’s not new, but it is somewhat new in the U.S. And Chicago media was praised by Al Tompkins at Poynter for showing editorial restraint — and ultimately it was newsworthy enough to air.

Money talks. As Ad Age noted, brands are shying away from Facebook Live given the proclivity for violence. My question: should the hundreds of deaths indirectly caused by all the shit-talking on Facebook in Chicago matter to Facebook? How could they not?

Joe and LD will be manning the broadcast microphones for the Cubs at least through 2019, per new contracts (CSN)

Robert Feder reported on Ben Bradley joining WGN as an investigative reporter after a long run at the local ABC affiliate. He’ll also take on anchor duties. Bradley will also take on anchoring duties.

Maybe this is a silly question, but investigative reporting is a full-time job enough. How will Bradley juggle both responsibilities and how dedicated is WGN to ensuring he and other reporters are committed to long-form investigations? We’ll soon find out.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Bradley said he was thrilled to join “Chicago’s Very Own” and particularly pleased to work with Suppelsa, Duarte and Bartel. “WGN is offering me what few others can: The opportunity to investigate, uncover and discover stories that are important to Chicagoans — and the time in a newscast to tell them properly,” he said.
Read more about what we mean by the untold story, an ideal and a destination, here. I’m Jeremy Borden, an independent journalist in Chicago focused on criminal justice and politics, with an occasional foray into business, sports and other topics. Contact me with any advice, tips, arguments at borden.jeremy@gmail.com.
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