Tuesday, August 23, 2016

X-Files and Back to the Future stars survived some awkward moments at Wizard World

Posted By on 08.23.16 at 01:23 PM

Costars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny joke at The X-Files reunion panel at Wizard World Chicago on Saturday. - DANIEL BOCZARSKI/GETTY
  • Daniel Boczarski/Getty
  • Costars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny joke at The X-Files reunion panel at Wizard World Chicago on Saturday.

The X-Files reunion during Wizard World Chicago last Saturday opened on a cringe-inducing note. Moments after the quartet of cast members, including stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, strolled onto the stage and sat down for a 45-minute Q&A session, a young spiky-haired panel moderator kicked things off with an utterly vacuous question: "So . . . what's your favorite pizza?" 

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Monday, August 22, 2016

After BGA leaders depart, survivors vote to unionize

Posted By on 08.22.16 at 12:30 PM

The BGA's Andy Shaw, left, with Michael Ferro, formerly of Wrapports, in 2014 - RAMZI DREESSEN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ramzi Dreessen/Sun-Times
  • The BGA's Andy Shaw, left, with Michael Ferro, formerly of Wrapports, in 2014

Two months after two senior staff members of the Better Government Association resigned under duress, the staff they left behind has voted 11 to 0 to join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) to unionize. Wage scales are an inevitable subject of negotiation when management sits down with labor, but job insecurity often plays a bigger role when employees decide to unionize in the first place.

And in this case, the staff of the BGA looked to the future with foreboding. Its two top investigators had suddenly been shown the door by CEO Andy Shaw, who talked about taking on a role that employees felt was inappropriate. It's at such moments that members of a nonunion shop take stock of how much voice and influence they actually have at the office and decide to do something about it.

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Chicagoans gape at air show, escape catastrophe—again

Posted By on 08.22.16 at 11:30 AM

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying over North Avenue Beach during the 58th annual Chicago Air & Water Show Saturday - LOU FOGLIA/SUN-TIMES
  • Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
  • U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying over North Avenue Beach during the 58th annual Chicago Air & Water Show Saturday

Do you have the repeated nightmare in which you're in college and you can't find your classroom? I do, but this past weekend reminded me that once a year I have an even scarier recurring dream.

I'm at home, minding my own business, watching a ball game or reading a scholarly journal. (This weekend it was the gold-medal Olympic basketball game.) Then, I hear the roar of a jet fighter plane ominously low in the sky.

I hear it again. It's even lower. I look out the window and there it is, about 100 yards away, barreling at my window at about 500 miles an hour. I can tell it's out of control. Maybe it's upside down.

"Wow!" I think. And that's the last thing I ever think, though that night I lead the ten o'clock news. 

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MTV’s Unlocking the Truth is too focused on white men

Posted By on 08.22.16 at 11:00 AM

Eva Nagao and Ryan Ferguson star in MTV's Unlocking the Truth - COURTESY OF MTV
  • Courtesy of MTV
  • Eva Nagao and Ryan Ferguson star in MTV's Unlocking the Truth

In the last two years, stories of possible wrongful convictions have taken the true-crime genre by storm. To the Serial podcast and Netflix's Making a Murderer, we can now add MTV's Unlocking the Truth.

"It could happen to anyone" says Ryan Ferguson in the opening scenes of the show, as he explains his own story. When Ferguson was 19, he was convicted of murdering a newspaper editor in his hometown of Columbia, Missouri, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. After his case got picked up by Chicago-based attorney Kathleen Zellner—who has successfully litigated exonerations for 17 men and now represents Steven Avery of Making a Murderer—attorneys found that evidence against Ferguson was obtained through coerced false confessions by local police and prosecutors. Ferguson spent ten years in prison before being exonerated in 2013.

Last year, a documentary film about Ferguson's case caught the attention of MTV producers.

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A look back at 1994, when dumping on Hillary was a new sport

Posted By on 08.22.16 at 07:00 AM

Hillary and Bill Clinton in 1994 - AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
  • AP/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Hillary and Bill Clinton in 1994
Sorting through some old papers of mine, I came across a column I'd written for the Reader in March of 1994—close to a quarter century ago. I like to revisit old columns; they remind me of matters that seemed important at the time though I've long since forgotten them. And they send a poignant message to the present. The message is, You're no big deal. We thought we were special too.

But this column had more to say than that.

Bill and Hillary Clinton had been in the White House about 14 months at the time, and they were catching it from the Tribune. Two of the paper's op-ed columnists vented their displeasure.

Stephen Chapman explained the Clintons' strategy for getting Americans to accept health care reforms they didn't want to pay for. "Promise the voters everything, and count on being back in Little Rock before they find out you lied," he wrote. Chapman was cynical, but Joan Beck was frightened. "It's the Clintons who are determined to expand the role of government in our lives by their plans for massive changes in health care," she wrote.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Let's cover the elections like we cover the Olympics

Posted By on 08.16.16 at 07:00 AM

If we did, we might have a cable channel for every political topic the way there's a channel for every sport. Even dressage. - AFP / JOHN MACDOUGALL
  • If we did, we might have a cable channel for every political topic the way there's a channel for every sport. Even dressage.

A couple of things we can count on during any presidential election are partisan orators assuring us that "this is the most important election of our lifetimes" and media critics complaining that nobody's paying enough attention to the issues. I've been one of those critics myself a time or two, though a half-hearted one, as I don't honestly believe anyone ever lost the White House because voters didn't hear enough about his trade policy.

This year's different. The issues everyone's talking and writing about this time run along the lines of:

Is she honest enough or corrupt?

Is he just narcissistic or also going senile?

And on a more cosmic level:

Who are these people?

Will America choose hope or fear?

Are we finished as a democracy?

Is the country falling apart?

These are big issues one and all, and no one's overlooking them. They preoccupy our most important pundits, and they should. After all, this actually might be the most important election of our lifetimes.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Full Spectrum Features brings diverse voices to the forefront of Chicago’s independent film scene

Posted By on 08.12.16 at 12:30 PM

  • Courtesy Full Spectrum Features
  • Fawzia Mirza

Signature Move 
is a hybrid indie romantic comedy and coming-of-age story about a Pakistani-Muslim lesbian who falls in love with a Mexican woman (and competitive wrestling) during the course of a Chicago summer. The film is directed by a woman, Jennifer Reeder; written by women, Lisa Donato and lead actor Fawzia Mirza; and focuses on women of color—a relative anomaly in a domestic cinematic landscape largely filtered through the lenses of straight white men.

Yet Eugene Sun Park, one of the producers of Signature Move and the founder of the Chicago-based nonprofit film and video production company Full Spectrum Features, has a different take. "It's an accessible love story," he says. "It's a summertime love story that takes place in Chicago."

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

At least the Chicago Tribune didn't call Olympian Corey Cogdell our own little Annie Oakley

Posted By on 08.10.16 at 05:59 PM

  • Sam Greenwood/Getty
  • Corey Cogdell

Some days, everything we try to say as journalists comes out wrong. People notice, and people are picky.

The Tribune just got beaten up for a careless tweet that gave the wrong person the right one's due. 
A Tribune news story followed that was better, but not better enough. The headline said: 

Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio
 Readers sneered:   

And so forth. As always, there were men who stepped up in their own way to sound supportive:

And a few readers meekly suggested the majority was missing a point. To be honest, this is what occurred to me. What we had here, minus Corey Cogdell's husband's employment, was a young woman from Alaska winning a bronze medal in a sport that possibly ten Tribune readers have any interest in. It's unimaginable that the Tribune would even have tweeted her medal, let alone written an article about it, if she hadn't been married to Mitch Unrein.

Yet the reason the Tribune paid her bronze any attention was being deemed unmentionable in the attention the Tribune paid. It was one of those tricky situations that can be collected under the catchall category of some days it doesn't pay to get up in the morning.

And face it: the Tribune could have done better. The tweet could have said something like: "Corey Cogdell wins bronze. Husband plays for Bears."

Well, anyway, in journalism—though John Oliver now has us wondering for how much longer—tomorrow is always another day.

But what did the next day bring? Donald Trump, pimping a crowd in North Carolina about the Second Amendment. This time, I'm the picky reader.

"By the way, and if she [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick—if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," Trump warned. "Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

Reporters covering the event labored to convey Trump's remark evenhandedly. They stressed its ambiguity, as if judgment should be reserved until more was known about what Trump meant.

The New York Times called Trump's words "oblique" but said they "appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands . . . " Mother Jones said Trump "seemed to suggest" but what he meant "isn't entirely clear." 

The Washington Post said Trump "appeared to encourage gun owners to take action" but "it was not clear whether Trump was inciting gun owners to use their weapons against judges or a sitting president, or was encouraging some other action."

Given the media's hesitation to declare what Trump meant, his camp had all the room in the world to insist on what he didn't mean. The Tribune reported that Trump headquarters blamed the "dishonest media" for misinterpreting him, while Trump himself told Sean Hannity he was talking about voting power and "there can be no other interpretation." 

What I think these reporters understood—but didn't feel it was their place to say—was that Trump had no intention of being clear. He's a master of the pregnant remark that hangs in the air for the audience to make of what it will. Don't find out from Trump what he said. Find out from his audience what they heard.

Thanks to the license he enjoys as a columnist to add his two cents' worth, Tom Friedman of the New York Times did the best job I saw of getting at what Trump's speech was all about. 

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated," Friedman began. "His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a 'traitor' and 'a Nazi' for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren't actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible."

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Monday, August 8, 2016

John Oliver takes aim at Tronc

Posted By on 08.08.16 at 11:47 AM

Midway through through Last Week Tonight's Sunday-evening segment on the problems facing the news industry, host John Oliver zeroed in on the embattled Tribune Company. 

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Looking for a ‘national conversation’ on race? Look around.

Posted By on 08.08.16 at 10:56 AM

Supporters of the 'Blue Lives Matter' movement, back, and supporters of the Black Live Matter movement, front, held opposing rallies in McAllen, Texas, in mid-July. - JOEL MARTINEZ/THE MONITOR VIA AP
  • Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP
  • Supporters of the 'Blue Lives Matter' movement, back, and supporters of the Black Live Matter movement, front, held opposing rallies in McAllen, Texas, in mid-July.
Imagine America as a gigantic mahogany table around which sit the writers of America, deciding, as things fell apart, that it was time to step up, and therefore writing—and signing by the hundreds—an "open letter to the American people" declaring that "as a matter of conscience" they opposed "unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States." And having done that, imagine them leaning back in their padded swivel chairs at the gigantic mahogany table, sighing with satisfaction, Well, that's our two cents' worth, and reaching for the bowl of jelly beans set out as a reward.

The letter I'm describing was actually written, in May, posted on the website Lithub, and signed by more than 450 writers. 

What happened next was completely predictable: Aleksandar Hemon, a writer who didn't sign the open letter, said that if writers wanted to oppose Trump, and the sorry trajectory of American life that led to Trump, they should be writing books, not useless letters.

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