Chi Trib wins a few

Chi Trib has some good stuff in its Metro section today, in which it shows what it can do to beat the smaller-staffed Sun-Times locally.

* Excellent religion story tells of Poles come to study and be ordained here for service here.  Anyone who has checked ordination info in recent years knows how few new priests come from the Chicago area.  This would be no-priest-land if it weren’t for outlanders.  No wonder Quigley (prep sem) is being closed.

The story is in nice contrast to breathless accounts-for-sale by the Sun-Times religion woman, who works hard and gets all over breaking stories but gets a lot of space sometimes at the expense of relevance to most churchgoers, I think.  Today’s, for instance, is a silly thing about what Jesus would sound like, a venture into the merely curious to which newsies are tempted no matter their specialty.  Such stories assume there are not enough readers to justify church stories except in crises or emergencies.

* A very good story about the Principal Who Couldn’t make reform stick is in the Trib (but not in Sun-Times).  The principal rubbed too many people the wrong way, and without the writer spelling it out — the story is played quite straight — it looks as if they trumped stuff against her downtown, as one may deduce from this:

Chicago Public Schools officials said Stoxstell was fired for "disregarding directives" from her area supervisor, but there were no allegations of misconduct. A top administrator said that parents were disgruntled with some of her decisions and that staff morale was a problem. Administrators said one decision--to punish students for a food fight by making them eat peanut butter sandwiches instead of a regular hot lunch--played a role in her firing. 

This came after a year in which the percentage of students meeting test standards rose from 19 percent to 33 percent.

* Both papers have the arrest of the apparent murderer of three women, but again the Trib beats S-T with coverage.  Its “Slain mom pleaded with son, [bond] court told” is missing the S-T story detail about his stabbing her “in the throat,” but has much more detail, even allowing for earlier S-T stories.  It’s a horrendous story that deserves such reporting.   

* The Trib and others are being sued by an ex-U. of Ill. and -NBA player now an announcer for mixing him up with another ex-NBA player in reports of an assault of an eight-year-old girl in Florida.  Trib apologized and retracted the next day, but the man is claiming “reckless disregard” for the truth.  Whether that’s so or not is to be decided, but the term is a stopper.  Not that it’s a new one but that it gives pause to anyone reporting anything, whether in danger of law suit or not and it’s at the heart of much of today’s debate about media reliability, stories gone wrong, etc.  What’s reckless and what isn’t? we may ask.

Trib op-ed writer Victor Davis Hanson gets at this issue, I think, with his commentary about the latest Bob Woodward book and two others, accusing them of presenting “pseudo-history,” replete with endnotes and other scholarly paraphernalia.  They use them to give credibility, but the sources are not identified and so their claims are not verifiable.  But historians cite materials available to all, for checking. 

These writers supply only the “veneer” of history, however.  “Seven knowledgeable” sources are Woodward’s foundations, but even in post-publication discussion these do not come forth.  It’s “gossip,” Hanson says.

[W]ho are these "seven knowledgeable" sources? Since Woodward so far won't name them, how do we really know that they are "knowledgeable" or even "primarily" used? Is the answer because they talked to Woodward (and not to others?), or were [they] pre-selected because they happened to agree with his own views?

In "Cobra II" [another of the books], we wonder why one "former Centcom planner" would talk while others (more numerous?) choose not to. And in "Fiasco” [the third], is the talkative but unnamed "Bush administration official" getting even [with] his rivals by offering only his interpretation of shared past conversations?

These are reasonable questions.

* Meanwhile, Bears players menace reporters at a news conference, and S-T columnist Rick Telander is not amused, even if Bears p.r. people “chuckled” and “Bears family heir and special projects manager Pat McCaskey laughed like a hyena.”  Telander describes a very bad scene.  But you (I) have to wonder, were they getting back at reporters because of that awful Sun-Times front page the other day filled with the Urlacher head shot and the screaming “Pay up, Papa Bear”? 

Urlacher, a bonafide football hero, had been told to increase support payments if he wanted to see more of his and the mother’s child, born out of wedlock.  It’s a messy court case, but the menacing look in a linebacker’s eyes is not to be transposed to the court room, nor is Urlacher to be called “Papa Bear,” even if he’s a father and a Bears player.  That title is reserved for the Bears (& NFL) founder, the late George Halas.  I’m not much of a fan, but that got my cork.

* Finally, we have Mel Gibson telling AP that “even after a couple of drinks you lose all humility . . . and you just become a braggart and a blowhard."  Who?  Speak for yourself, Mel.

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