Attack Vendors and Other Media Conspiracies | Letters | Chicago Reader

Attack Vendors and Other Media Conspiracies 

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To the editors:

The new magazine, Spy, mentioned in Hot Type, 8/7/87, is the greatest idea to come along since the First Amendment. Though it may contain some youthful frivolity, the photo essay on "the de-volution of Bob Greene's hair pieces," some interesting truths are seeing daylight: "The [N.Y.] Times has been dragging their employees around by the hair for the past 15 years. The Times has been Kremlin-like for the last 15 years." Spy could give the public its first opportunity to share an insider's view of the power of the mega-media.

Never has this awesome power of the press and the extent of its range been brought into such sharp focus as when a car I was a passenger in was forced to stop by a vendor thrusting a Chicago Tribune at the windshield. (Gary Hart's name was in the headline.) Like the Ayatollah Khomeini's suicide children, kids wearing aprons with display newspapers strapped to their bodies dart in and out of traffic, defy and charge moving vehicles. If they can stop a car, the driver may be rattled or intimidated enough to buy a paper. This is truly an exercise in press freedom and free enterprise.

Can a private employer force employees to not only break the law, but put themselves and others at risk? Damn right, if he's big enough. The law can be ignored in a just cause: the peddling of newspapers. Employees working on the fringes of the fourth estate follow orders or they become members of the fifth estate, the unemployed.

Those responsible control the medium from which they can editorially express incredulity, outrage, righteousness, and deny they had any intention of breaking the law or risking harm to anyone. But those kamikaze aprons worn by the vendors were not designed for home delivery kids.

Consider a business whose function is to sell a product, in this case newspapers. While doing this it can destroy a U.S. president (Nixon) or a candidate for the office (Hart) or it can connive at the womanizing of another president (JFK) and allow him to remain free of scandal. This business would have us believe it is the idealistic watchdog defending the public's right to know.

Does the public's right to know reach into the Augean kennels of its own watchdogs?

Maybe Spy will be equal to the Herculean chore of exposing the kind of power and influence that reaches from U.S. presidents to paperboys. Certainly no city official can afford to make waves even to enforce the law. The opening of a City Hall closet door by the press could precipitate a storm of skeletons inundating a city already half buried in skeletal remains.

Some of the more obvious examples of local press power are their unlicensed and illegal attack vendors; and their unlicensed, inanimate newspaper vending machines on public property. That their delivery truck drivers, forced to maintain nearly impossible schedules, enjoy "most favored driver status" is common knowledge to any motorist who has seen them flout traffic regulations with impunity.

The pseudonymity of J.J. Hunsecker is understandable. Violation of the oath of omerta concerning intramural media doings is at least as serious as it is with the mafia. There are occasions when the champions of the public's right to know become stonemasons the equal of Mr. Nixon and Co. For instance, two years ago when the production workers struck the Tribune, the Tribune was accused of violating the Chicago Fair Labor Practices Ordinance that forbids importing strikebreakers. In a Chicago Sun-Times article, Barry Cronin quoted a Tribune employee as saying that strikebreakers from all over the country had replaced striking pressmen. Cronin wrote, "A Tribune official who last evening answered the telephone of company president Charles T. Brumback, but refused to identify himself, declined to comment." Understandable reticence from the office of the president. The attempt to verify the anonymous quote by an anonymous employee was anonymously verified.

We need Spy. I look forward to the espionage.

Walter Tegtmeyer

W. Berwyn

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