Thursday, March 29, 2007

Two different worlds

Posted By on 03.29.07 at 02:44 PM

This might sound unbearably quaint -- breakfast, a breakfast table, and a stack of actual newspapers in all their glorious but obsolete pulpiness. (Yes, English muffins were involved.) I read Wednesday's Sun-Times first because it all but jumped off the table and grabbed me by the nose. "'Sickened and embarrassed'" screamed the headline. "After pair of videotaped beatings, top cop cracks down on thug officers -- and those who protect them."

Another front-page headline, again quoting police superintendent Phil Cline: "'He's tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department.'" That about Anthony Abbate, next to a still from the video that has him allegedly knocking a bartender at Jesse's Short Stop Inn to the floor and beating her. And across the bottom of page one: "Carol Marin: What city needs to do to clean up this mess." Everything on page one of the Sun-Times referred to Chicago's rotten cops. Even the weather word was "solemn."

Annie Sweeney's cop story stretched across pages two and three of the Sun-Times, over an item about a German deli closing in Lincoln Square--not exactly the second most important thing to happen in the world, or in Chicago, in the last 24 hours but of interest to me because I once bought some sausages there.

In the commentary section, part-timer Marin deepened my impression of her as one smart, tough cookie by refusing to be placated by Cline's indignation. "Cline declared that Abbate's beating of the barmaid 'tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department,'" she wrote. "He's dead wrong. If Jon Burge or Joe Miedzianowski [the first a police commander and torturer, the second a gang-crimes officer convicted of drug running] had ever been caught on tape, Chicago might have qualified for the International Court at the Hague by now."

And on to the Tribune. Page one was the usual rummage sale: a piece on the Brown's Chicken trial, another on a testing dodge in Illinois schools, a big picture of attorney general Alberto Gonzales (in Chicago) shutting down a press conference -- and the story that impressed me, a report by Maurice Possley on the mysterious disappearance of honeybee colonies across the country. It might have been the most significant story in the paper--Possley put the value of honeybee pollination to American agriculture at about $14 billion a year--but who leads a front page with the headline "Bees Missing"? 

The following pages offered a mix of national and international stories chosen to flatter the reader who thinks of himself as a serious sojourner in a serious world. A headline: "Pullout deadline survives." Another headline: "Egypt's democrats feeling betrayed" -- about the government-sponsored referendum rolling back that country's civil rights. I'd finished section one of the Tribune when I remembered the cop story. Had the Tribune missed it? Was it a Sun-Times exclusive?

No. The Tribune account turned up at the bottom of the first page of the Tribune's Metro section. In some editions. Metro sections differ from zone to zone, and the Northwest edition of the Tribune a colleague brought to work didn't carry the story at all. I bet lots of Tribune readers out in McHenry County saw the Jesse's Short Stop Inn video, but they didn't get to read what Chicago's top cop had to say about it. Too bad for them it didn't happen in Egypt.

Then today the Tribune's lead editorial commented on Cline's statement, thereby offering thousands of readers the paper's views on a story their editions of the Tribune hadn't covered.

(The Sun-Times's front page today? "The verdict is in: / TRIB GUILTY / Convicted of Crimes Against Cubdom.")

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