Know your Royko | Bleader

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Know your Royko

Posted By on 04.25.07 at 02:22 PM

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Not long after I graduated from my august south-side alma mater, I overheard the following conversation in the 57th St. Powell's, which is perhaps the best used book store in the city and is generally staffed by students and recent grads.

[Clerks are discussing the racial undertones of Sofia Coppola's overrated Lost in Translation; a customer approaches]

"Excuse me, can you tell me where to find Mike Royko books?"

"I don't know--what kind of books did he write?"

Don't let this happen to you. Tonight the poetically named Freedom Museum presents Mike Royko Remembered, on about the tenth anniversary of the columnist's death (April 29, 1997). Studs Terkel and members of Royko's family will be there, as will Tribune colleagues Rick Kogan and John Kass.

I just finished the Royko anthology One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko, and several things struck me.

* The most successful and widely read newspaper columnist in the city's history was anti-war and pro-gun  control, a strong critic of Daley I and Reagan, and continually focused on the machine's effect on race relations in the city. Something of a progressive, in fact. Bears mentioning.

* He'd have made a great blogger, and it might have saved him from having to write as much as he did, given his gift for compression.

* It was depressing to see how many of Royko's columns over his entire tenure--about police corruption, guns, race, entertainment journalism, the futility of the Cubs, sports salaries, clout, mayoral power, racial tension, public housing, the city's striving to be a world-class metropolis, the failures of the Veterans Administration, and war--could easily be rewritten and published today.  

* Along those lines, I'll leave you with some excerpts from "Viet Verdict: Mostly Guilty" (November 1, 1972).

"During all those years, we weren't kept in darkness. We were lied to and much was kept secret. But we don't have a government-controlled press. And Big Brother hasn't taken over the tube yet.

"To the contrary, more information flowed out of this war than probably any in history. Despite its great unpopularity, the press--in the form of papers, magazines, books, and electronics--did possibly the finest job of covering and explaining a war as has ever been done."

[snip]

"It was much less demanding to embrace some empty-headed slogan--'We got to stop the Commies somewhere, right?' 'The president knows facts we don't know, right?'--and to let it go at that.

"Those who felt otherwise, and bothered to look beyond the government's official line, received a strange reward for good citizenship. For his display of statesmanship, Sen. William Fulbright became one of the most maligned men in American life. Wayne Morse, one of two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, couldn't get re-elected...."

[snip]

"Even now, as the war ends, the Spocks and Morses and Fulbrights are still considered troublemakers by the majority--even thought the events and the outcome show they were right all along."

[snip]

"Millions of people never looked beyond the length of Abbie Hoffman's hair when thinking about the war. More people asked 'why are they in Lincoln Park' than why we were in Vietnam."

I told you he'd have made a good blogger.

Update: The Sun-Times has a nice biographical sketch.

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