Department of Decontextualized Quotations | Letters | Chicago Reader

Department of Decontextualized Quotations 

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To the editors:

I am one of two reporters for Crain's Chicago Business who wrote the article on the McCarthy Building flap referred to in the Reader's October 9 Neighborhood News column, written by Ben Joravsky. As a reporter, I have often rolled my eyes at the very charge I am about to level at Mr. Joravsky, but here goes: You took my comments out of context, sir.

In his column, Mr. Joravsky lumps Crain's Chicago Business, Mayor Harold Washington, planning commissioner Elizabeth Hollander, and the two daily newspapers into a group that has "wholeheartedly championed" a plan to raze the landmark McCarthy Building to make way for a giant new office development. In support of that assertion, he quotes two paragraphs from an August 31 Crain's story I coauthored. The two paragraphs outline the possible benefits of the development, as presented by the developers.

To deem such an obligatory paragraph--the kind that appears in every reasonably balanced piece of journalism--as proof of Crain's opinion on the subject is stupid. Moreover, it ignores the facts.

Perhaps Mr. Joravsky missed the headline on that same story: "Mayor draws fire for North Loop tactics." Hardly a headline to a story that "champions" the city's approach to development of that site.

My story went on to take the mayor's people to task for abandoning the democratic process they have so cherished in the past, a process that, if followed in the McCarthy Building case, would have required extensive public debate on the fate of the building. That process was sacrificed to expediency in this case, which, as I pointed out in the story, raises serious questions about the future of landmarks in the city and casts doubt on the mayor's true commitment to public input in governmental decisions.

Finally, far from joining the cheerleading squad that supports the demolition of the McCarthy Building, my coverage of this issue over the last three years has drawn considerable scorn from several city officials and real estate developers. They accuse me of having preservationist sentiments, a charge quite different from the one made by Mr. Joravsky in his column.

Lisa Goff

E. Madison Park

Ben Joravsky replies:

First of all, let me say this: I would never, nor have I ever, implied or insinuated that Ms. Goff and her coauthor were anything less than the perfect model of journalistic objectivity.

I note that Crain's has for years supported subsidized private developments, such as the FJV project. But we all know the difference between an editorial and a news article. The fact that I quote Ms. Goff is a testament of admiration. Hers was a most succinct capsulation of FJV's projected benefits. I couldn't do a better job, so why try?

Now, having said all of that, let me add this. Ms. Goff seems to have missed the point of my article. It was not an analysis of the pros and cons of preserving the McCarthy Building, nor was it a study of whether Mayor Washington had violated his campaign pledge for open government.

Instead, I questioned the wisdom of spending millions of dollars on downtown offices, for which there is no great demand, at a time when the city has so many other pressing needs--like opening its schools.

By and large, this specific topic was dismissed by Ms. Goff in her August 31st article with the following observation: "Although the architectural merits of the McCarthy Building have been debated at length, few observers quarrel with the benefits of FJV's proposed development."

Like Ms. Goff, I believe that reporters--aiming for balance--should report both sides of any story. And so it was that I quoted at length some of FJV's most fervent supporters and opponents. Yet this responsibility for fairness does not obligate me, Ms. Goff, or any reporter to echo the unvarnished propaganda of city planners or private developers.

The fact is that quite a few people worry that the FJV project will wind up costing more in tax dollars than it makes. Such concerns have little to do with whether the McCarthy Building is worth preserving or if Mayor Washington has become a latter-day Richard Daley. They are, rather, part of a larger debate over whether the city should continue to subsidize private downtown development (hence, the pertinent headline: "Hopeful development: Do North Loop tax subsidies make any sense?").

As for your use of the word "stupid," Ms. Goff, allow me, an admiring reader, to humbly offer one small suggestion. The next time you are moved to write an angry letter, take five, so to speak. Read a book, talk to a friend, listen to music, or do whatever you like, and then write your letter. That brief pause will soothe your hurt feelings, and free your mind of unneeded nastiness.

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