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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Media Bias Revealed!
...As though Sox Fans needed more proof.

by Hal Vickery

In case anyone was wondering whether or not the Chicago Tribune slants its coverage in a pro-Cubs manner, last week’s unfortunate incident outside Wrigley Field was proof enough.  In case you’ve been on Mars for the last few days, here is the story in a nutshell. 

A couple of hours after Thursday afternoon’s Cubs-Diamondbacks game a minor traffic incident turned into murder.  As a group of pedestrians were crossing the street outside of Wrigley Field, an SUV cut them off.  One of the pedestrians reportedly responded by hitting the SUV with a souvenir miniature bat.   


This is the giant snail picture the Cubune editors published, truncating the final five paragraphs of their already abysmal Wrigley Murder story coverage in the suburban editions of their May 7 newspaper. 

And they still claim no bias!

Perhaps the snails "ate" the last five paragraphs?

The driver stopped his vehicle, got out and the two got into a scuffle.  Someone clubbed the driver with the miniature bat.  At this point a passenger, Rodrigo “Joker” Caballero, left the SUV and allegedly shot one of the pedestrians, Frankie Hernandez, in the chest, killing him.  A police car was about forty feet from the scene, and Caballero was apprehended within seconds after the shooting.   

The police would not identify who clubbed the driver with the miniature bat and also would not confirm exactly what caused the confrontation in the first place. 

The interesting thing, at least to Sox fans, about the aftermath is the reporting of the incident Friday morning, and the response to that reporting on sportstalk radio, in particular on WSCR (670 AM). 

One of the major city daily newspapers thought this was front page news, the top story of the day.  Another saw fit to bury it in the paper’s Metro section with a few paragraphs on the first page of that section and the bulk of the story on page three of that section.   

Can you guess which paper has a corporate affiliation with the Chicago Cubs and a vested interest in keeping bad news about the Lakeview district out of the minds of its readers? 

As a control, we’ll look to the Daily Herald, based in Arlington Heights.  It considered the shooting to be front page news.  

The upshot of all of this was that Mike Murphy and Fred Huebner posed a question which may have been inappropriate so soon after the event, considering its tragic nature, but quite relevant in terms of the fairness of all reporting in the city.  The question was, “If the shooting had occurred outside of U.S. Cellular Field, would it have made the front page of the Tribune?” 

One call came from a resident of Plainfield, IL, who in the course of giving his answer pointed out that The Cell is in a “bad neighborhood.”  It wasn’t until the next segment that resident “Sox fan” Fred Huebner pointed out that the area around 35th and Shields is not a bad neighborhood, and even if it were, what difference does it make when, if you park in the lots owned by the Sox, you don’t have to set foot in the neighborhood. 

Huebner is getting better.  Most of the time he lets such erroneous statements pass without comment.  In the portion of the segment I was able to hear, no one mentioned that police statistics show that the area around The Cell has a lower crime rate than the area around Wrigley Field.  Of course, that might require doing a little homework. 

Murphy also was operating on what was most likely a false premise, too, when he posed the question.  He imagined a phone call being made by a Tribune Co. bigwig to the editor ordering the story to be buried. 

In all likelihood no call has to be made.  It is more likely that there is a policy, written or unwritten, that any stories adverse to the financial interests of the Chicago Cubs be ignored or buried.  It is certain that the papers editors know this. 

Evidence for this is the paper’s lack of coverage of the trial of the lawsuit in which the Cubs were accused of scalping their own tickets.  It is also obvious that stories involving the location of the Tribune Co.’s ball park fall into two categories.  In those where the neighborhood is portrayed in a positive light, the neighborhood is “Wrigleyville.”  However, if crime or any negativity is involved, the neighborhood is suddenly “Lakeview.” 

So Murphy is wrong.  There doesn’t need to be a call made to an editor for the shooting story to be buried.  The Tribune’s editorial staff already knows how to hide their dirty linen.

-------- 

What was probably the worst display following the incident also was on The Score.  On Saturday morning, Dave Baum and Steve Rosenbloom got into a shouting match over the coverage by the Sun-Times and Tribune.  The latter paper is Rosenbloom’s employer. 

Rather than having an honest discussion about the strong and week points of each paper’s coverage, the two sportsblab hosts spent their time shouting at each other.  Baum made the best point when he noted that the Tribune in fact did bury its report.  The best the Tribune writer could say in his papers defense was to attack the Friday Sun-Times article for erroneously reporting that the victim had first clubbed the driver in the head with the miniature bat.  

After about five minutes of this sniping, I turned off the radio.   

So much for rational discourse on a tragic event. 

-------- 

Acknowledgment of the Chicago media’s pro-Cubs bias is now starting to come out.  The latest outing came Friday night on Joel Weisman’s “Week in Review” segment on WTTW Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight” program. 

Weisman asked the panel “Is there bias towards the Cubs?”  Bruce Levine, baseball analyst for WMVP (1000 AM), and Dick Kay, political analyst for WMAQ-TV (Channel 5) both answered in the affirmative.  Weisman, a Sox fan, and Kay (whose allegiance is unknown to me) both called the coverage in the local media “unfair.”  Those are pretty strong words. 

Pressure from Sox fans is starting to make a difference, and a lot of the credit goes to a regular poster on the WSI message boards who goes by the handle “Hangar 18.”  He has been relentless in his hounding of the local media, pointing out the unfairness in their coverage of the two teams.  

The result has been an increasing number of Sox fans calling out reporters, columnists, and editors every time unfair coverage of the Sox rears its ugly head. 

We’ve already seen a waffling of the media on this issue.  Less than a year ago the standard reply from the media outlets was, “We give equal treatment to both teams.” 

After being shown repeatedly that this is an outright misstatement of the facts, their tune has changed to, “We give more coverage to the Cubs because they are more popular.”   

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an admission of bias.  What they are telling us is, “We’re not biased, but we are because the Cubs are more popular.”  Ladies and gentlemen, the emperor has no clothes. 

-------- 

The bias is not limited to the Tribune, the print media, or the sports departments, and last week’s shooting isn’t the first case in which it has shown itself in the news departments.  In March a rape, apparently the latest perpetrated by a serial rapist, was committed a few blocks from Wrigley Field. 

The report I saw was from the news department for which Dick Kay works.  When the crime was reported, the scene was reported as Lakeview.  (This of course is the actual name of the district that Wrigley Field is located in.) 

However, in other stories in which crime is not involved, this same news department has identified the area as “Wrigleyville,” just as it is identified in positive stories in the Tribune.   

This may or may not be a conscious decision on their part, but it does tend to cover up the fact that the area does have its share of crime.  It also shows that news departments are also not immune from the Tribune Co.’s marketing plan for their baseball club. 

At least in the case of last week’s shooting, nothing could be hidden from the public.  Everyone knows where the intersection of Clark and Addison is.  Perhaps that’s why the Tribune’s editors felt the need to bury the story. 

-------- 

One branch of the Tribune Co. that does deserve credit is the news department at WGN radio (720 AM).  Had it not been for severe weather Friday morning, the shooting would have been the lead story.  As it was, the story with the correct location of the shooting and the best available reports of the incident were given without apparent bias. 

Credit goes to WGN’s news director Tom Peterson for using the correct news judgment.  One can only hope that the Tribune’s editors learn that truth is more important than corporate synergy. 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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