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A winter tradition: TV news hot on hype but sub-zero on substance

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideGetting cold out there. Autumn’s over. Did you see the weather they got in Minnesota? Won’t be long before we see some of the “white stuff.”
Polar vortex is on its way.
I’d wager most folks couldn’t explain what a polar vortex is, but they like saying “polar vortex.”
Can we please stop? Seriously.
This is Chicago.
We experience four seasons. Winter is one of them. It’s mid-November and it’s getting cold. Shocking.
Of course, the local news broadcasts feed this silliness. Years ago, I don’t remember newscasts leading with weather stories unless we were in for a “grind the city to a halt” type storm.
But now, any threat of snow, any significant drop in temperature, and weather is the star of the TV news.
Last week, I caught the national news and weather was genuinely the story in places like Minnesota and some Great Plains’ states where the temperature dropped to below freezing in mere hours. Sheets of ice blanketed the roads in some places. Winter weather had arrived with little warning.
Real news, to be sure.
We escaped the deep freeze here in Chicago, but it was getting colder and that certainly deserved news coverage.
News anchors chatted with the weatherman, feigning disappointment about the end of warmer temps. Everyone was resigned to the fact that autumn was over.
But news coverage of the onset of winter is only the opening act. The real fun begins when we finally get the first big snowstorm.
Breaking news. It’s snowing in Chicago. Dispatch the reporters and the camera crews.
They follow the same template year after year after year.
Images of snowplows clearing the streets and maybe few words from the guy who drives the plow. Talk to the city dweller who spent hours shoveling snow in front of his house and used kitchen chairs to reserve the space. A long-held Chicago tradition, we’re reminded.
Real news would be footage of a driver getting out of his car, moving the chairs and parking in the “reserved” spot, leading to a fight with the guy who shoveled the snow.
“Snow fall leads to brawl. Tonight at 10.”
Instead, it’s more of the usual.
A reporter is stationed along the side of a highway or on one of the overpasses. Traffic is snarled as a result of the snow. Who knew? And by the way, if you don’t have to go outside….don’t.
Of course, what’s wall-to-wall weather coverage without getting a reporter to Home Depot or a similar store? The unprepared masses are buying shovels, snow blowers, salt, and the like. “What brings you out tonight?” the reporter asks a shopper. We eagerly await the response.
Sometimes, a reporter will check in on the grocery stores as well. Some people are stocking up on the staples before supplies run out. The dawn of the apocalypse is upon us. Ready yourselves.
And let’s not forget to talk to the tow truck drivers putting in double and triple shifts as well as the folks whose cars are stuck in the snow.
And no one can say the TV reporters aren’t prepared for the elements. Big, goofy hats with earflaps, ski gloves and boots suitable for someone taking a team of dogs into the artic are all part of the garb. And despite the garb, reporters still look cold and miserable.
It will happen this year just like every other year. We expect it, I suppose, and that’s why the TV news feeds it to us. Plus, in a town with several newscasts, one station can’t afford to downplay the first flake that falls from the sky.
So get ready. It’s getting cold out there. Winter’s upon us.
The TV news told me so.

Remembering Jane Byrne - This fighting mayor sure packed a punch

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineI was fortunate my first assignment to cover Chicago City Hall in 1978 occurred at the same time that Jane M. Byrne, the former Chicago commissioner of Consumer Services announced her candidacy for mayor against Mayor Mike Bilandic and the Chicago machine.
Byrne, who died Friday, looked to be a longshot. I have written much about her career online (www.TheMediaOasis.com). But Jane Byrne was a dynamo earning the nickname “Fighting Jane.”
Byrne was motivated to run for mayor because of revenge against the “Cabal of Evil Men” whom she identified as Ald. Ed Vrdolyak (a convicted felon), the surviving and brilliant Ed Burke, and the late representative of the Chicago mob, Ald. Fred Roti.
Vrdolyak, Burke and Roti, Byrne alleged, had corrupted Bilandic, who became mayor after the death of Richard J. Daley.
No one believed Byrne could win. Burke blew her off saying she was like is aunt. Vrdolyak scoffed. Roti just took orders. And Bilandic fumbled through one of the worst-run campaigns for election I have ever seen in 40 years of covering Chicago politics.
Bilandic’s stumbles were driven by his failure to deal with a record snowfall that hammered Chicagoland at the end of 1978 and early 1979. Instead of removing snow, Bilandic gave a sweetheart deal contract to his former deputy mayor, Ken Sain, who produced a 90-page report ($1,000 a page) that basically said when it snows, shovel it.
Bilandic continued his tumble, ordering the CTA trains to skip past black inner city stops to get white voters back to their homes. Most were suburbanites. Black commuters simmered as they watched train after trains speed past while they froze in the bitter January arctic chill.
Then, Bilandic promised to remove snow from the white neighborhoods, announcing a plan to shovel neighborhood streets urging homeowners to park their cars in local parking lots so the plows could race through. But the snowplows dumped the snow in the same parking lots, burying the parked cars.
Next, as the snow crippled O’Hare Airport and brought it to an unprecedented standstill, Bilandic and his socialite wife, Heather Morgan, stood at O’Hare Airport and accepted an award claiming that O’Hare was one of the best run airports in the country. Behind the Bilandics, as they posed for pictures, were mounds of luggage and stranded commuters who were stuck at the airport for days.
Byrne got the support of Mike Royko, whose columns gave her the 30,000 votes that helped put her over the top in the election.
After winning, the humiliated aldermen bowed, fearing the new mayor would strip them of privilege, clout and perquisites.
Byrne tapped Aldermen Bill Lipinski, Marty Oberman and John Aiello to run her administration. But the trio stumbled so badly, Byrne cut a deal with Vrdolyak to take their place.
All the reforms Byrne promised went out the window. Byrne allied herself with the same cabal that ran Bilandic’s failed administration, including the controversial housing kingpin, Charlie Swibel.
Byrne took her rage against the media focusing on me because I was from the Southwest side, “Daley Territory,” believing I was his ally. Her attacks against me were unprecedented and relentless.
The pinnacle was when her husband, Jay McMullen, threatened to punch me in the nose, pushing my career into the media stratosphere, which I loved.
Yet, I have to say with sincerity, we miss you Jane Byrne. You deserved far more respect than you received.

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Mary Cate story hits home

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

Taekwondo is starting in ten minutes. We've got to leave right now!”

That was the scene in my house a few years ago and I was doing some of the commanding.

I was watching my then-preschooler struggle to get into her uniform. I wanted desperately to intervene, so I could hurry things along. However, she jerked away each time I reached for her saying, "Mommy...I can do it!"

            In her final attempt to pull her elbow through the sleeve, the fingernail on her thumb acted as a razor, slicing into her eye. She let out a whistling howl, sealed her eyes closed and hopped. Once subdued by my petition to help, she opened her eyes and I flinched. She had busted a blood vessel.

            "What!?" she said, looking back at me.

My grim expression was telling.

            I played it down. "Ugh, well, your eye looks a little red.” I said. That was an understatement. Try bloody Mary red!

“Does it hurt?" I asked.

            She said no and told me she was fine. Regrettably, when we arrived at Taekwondo, people weren’t exactly discrete about letting her know they noticed.

            "WHOA! What happened to your eye?" one kid said.

            Her eye may not have hurt but, her countenance showed her feelings were. She said everyone that pointed out her injury made her feel bad. Fortunately for her, the flaw was temporary and healed within a week.

If only things were that easy for my youngest daughter with special needs. She looks like a typical developing child but, she has an intellectual disability due to a FOXP1 gene mutation. It can be awfully uncomfortable observing her in social settings with those unfamiliar with her tendencies. Their squeamish body language and looks of confusion speak volumes. It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey kid? What’s wrong with you?” 

            I must admit, my infomercial explanation of her diagnosis is becoming more concise. Depending on the setting and applicable circumstances, it sounds like this…

            “Rhonda-Rene communicates using sign language, pictures, and gestures. Did I forget the frequent, excitably outbursts? Due to a speech impairment called Apraxia she can only verbalize a few words. Her lack of language doesn’t hinder her desire to engage people. She can be forward, unknowingly invading personal space. Being able to move is a necessity for her, it regulates a sensory disorder that requires she seek vestibular input through swinging, spinning, climbing, pushing etc. Because her developmental age is much younger than her chronological age, which is, it’s challenging for her to participate in certain social and academic activities without assistance. While she’s extremely affectionate, unless she initiates the contact, she may become tactile defensive.”

            I’ve made a vow that even if it’s done singularly, I’m determined to inform people of her condition so she’ll have a chance to be understood. Are we not all unique, fantastically flawed and desiring acceptance?

            I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to read the front page story I wrote about Kerry Ryan Lynch and her daughter Mary Cate, who has Apert Syndrome. If so, you might agree that their bulk-sized school assemblies are probably more efficient than my one-on-one’s in the park. They headline school events like rock stars, playing a ‘kindness’ message that’s applicable to everyone!

             Kerry and Mary Cate are blessed with an enormous responsibility. They’re on the ground, fighting a war against ignorance with the weapon of education. There are people who spend their entire lives searching for purpose. The Lynch family members not only know their purpose, they’re creating a map for people like me.

            It is my honor to identify with their journey. I’m grateful for having a platform that'll bring awareness to their story. I leave you with what I feel is the most powerful statement in Kerry’s Choose Kind presentation, “Everyone you know is facing a battle you know nothing about -- so be kind!” 

 

Good to finally grace these pages

  • Written by Ray Hanania

 

Hanania-GrapevineIt took 30 years, but I finally made it back to the newspapers on 123rd Street and Harlem Avenue, the home of the Reporter and Regional News.
I’ve covered Chicagoland since 1975, but it was in 1985 when I ended my eight years at the Daily Southtown and almost started work at the Regional News.
I left the Southtown to become lead columnist for the Joliet Herald-News. I also spoke with Charles Richards about writing a column for the Regional News, with Herald approval.
The Richards’ were excited and laid out a front page announcing I had been hired. I worked closely with Virginia Richards to bring my column, “The Grapevine,” to a larger Chicagoland audience. But the best laid plans, as they say, went awry.
The City Council gave me an enthusiastic farewell, introduced by Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th Ward). A brilliant orator, Burke poked fun at me for getting under the skin of every mayor including Mike Bilandic, Jane Byrne and Harold Washington. Washington chided me, too
The meeting was the first for new Ald. Dorothy Tillman, a public housing activist. Tillman refused to remove her traditional large brimmed hat during the meeting causing a fight which made news. During the battle, Tillman gave me a rose from a dozen she received from supporters, and my friend and mentor at the Chicago Sun-Times, Harry Golden Jr., mentioned it in his story. That prompted Sun-Times editor Ken Towers to urge me to head up the newspaper’s new Page Ten column as the political writer. How could I refuse a salary that was double what the Herald and Regional News offered together?
The Richards were understanding. Being a political writer for the Chicago Sun-Times was, back then, a big deal.
The Reporter and Regional News are two of the best community newspapers serving the Southwest Surburbs. I am proud to bring my writing talent (four Lisagor Awards, one Sigma Delta Chi award, and other national awards), as well as my controversy (as Reporter editor Jeff Vorva so graciously noted last week).
 Journalism ink is in my blood. After leaving the Sun-Times, I launched the Villager Newspapers in 1993. In 2004, I started writing for the Southwest News-Herald and recently for the Des Plaines Valley News.
  Now I’m back.
Here’s a salute to the Richards dynasty, and to all the community publishers I knew, including Bruce Sagan at the Southtown, Walter Lysen at the Messenger Press, Ed Vondrak at the Southwest News-Herald, too, and now, Steve Landek and Mark Hornung.
I promise to continue fighting to give Chicagoland’s Southwest region the recognition it deserves.

Off the Grapevine
The fact that Congressman Bobby Rush doesn’t care about the west end of his district is a disgrace, which explains why he lost the suburban vote to his challenger, Jimmy Lee Tillman, who deserved to win … Bruce Rauner’s victory over Gov. Pat Quinn, thanks to the swing votes of Reagan Democrats in the suburbs, sets up a certain battle in 2018 that will probably see Lisa Madigan finally step up to the plate … The big push in the spring will be to oust Mayor Rahm Emanuel and replace him with someone who appreciates, not offends, Chicago’s diversity. Rumors abound that Liz Gorman will be given a Cabinet post in the Rauner Government for her support … So fun to watch the mainstream news medias which shamefully slammed Rauner before the election now climbing over itself to curry his favor … Pause to thank our veterans this week for their service to America.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at rghanania@gmail.com

 

Ray Hanania's Grapevine: Watching Wallenda's 'death watch' in the city was not worth it

  • Written by Ray Hanania

 

 

 

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More than 50,000 people crowded Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago to watch Nik Wallenda walk a tightrope across the Chicago River, and then one between the Marina Towers blindfolded.

 It was irresponsible, of course. There was no catch line or net to save him if he fell in the cold winds  that swept across the river walk where gawkers stood and Chicago Fire Department rescue units and scuba divers waited, “just in case.”

And it was the “just in case” that drew everyone --  the death watch -- just in case he fell. A terrible thought but without it, what made the daredevil stunt worth it?

Wallenda was more than 90 minutes late, so by the time he walked the first wire from Marina Tower to the Leo Burnett building, half the people were already leaving to go home before he began his second walk, blindfolded, across a shorter wire between the West and East Marina Towers buildings.

As I waited in the chill with my son, I could only wonder why I had to drive downtown and risk Chicago’s rising murder rate, the unbelievable high cost of parking and food at overrated restaurants. Chicago reeks with excessive taxes. So why are we downtown and not someplace in Chicago’s suburbs?

Where is the suburban version of Nik Wallenda entertaining crowds?

Political Grapevine

Who can predict the outcome of a tough Ad War between Gov. Pat Quinn and challenger Bruce Rauner? Regardless of who wins, the two real election winners are House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who breathed life into Quinn’s candidacy, and Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, who gave Rauner the chance he needed to make this an election to remember. Four years ago, voters dragged themselves to the polls and Quinn defeated Bill Brady, with no one paying attention to the Southwest suburbs of Cook County. This time, Gorman made the suburban county the focus of the battle.

Are you tired of the bias on TV News? I watched Laura Washington and Roosevelt professor Paul Green lamely pretend to be objective analysts on WLS TV. Are there not any objective commentators who can offer the public insight rather than self-serving political insight?

November is Arab-American Heritage month in Illinois. The most disturbing aspect is the revelations recently that several leaders of Chicago’s leading Jewish Community organizations lobbied newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 to close the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs. Emanuel then pulled the rug out from under the popular four-year-old Arabesque Festival, which was also unfairly attacked by the same groups. Mayor Daley stood up to the critics but Emanuel has a personal agenda to see the racism through. Shame on Emanuel’s phony pretense of racial diversity and cultural pride.

Here is some controversy as solid as Oak (Lawn): With the state elections over, the focus shifts to suburban and Chicago elections. The 10th Ward will have a showdown between neighborhood activist Samantha Webb and Ald. John Pope, a protégé of former 10th Ward heavy and convicted political boss Al Sanchez … Many people in Oak Lawn are hoping former two-term Mayor Dave Heilmann gets back involved and runs again in 2017. Oak Lawn is turning into an economic disaster. Everyone’s watching the vicious war of words between longtime Trustee Bob Streit and Mayor Sandra Bury in dueling online blog posts.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )