MEDIA WATCH: Sun-Times propagandists for corporate 'school reform' ignore another critical letter from Substance reporter

During the late 1990s, it became clear that the editors of the Chicago Sun-Times had sold out their "news" columns to corporate school reform, and that critical voices regarding the claims of Paul G. Vallas (and subsequently Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, Terry Mazany, and Jean-Claude Brizard) would not be heard in the news stories published in the Sun-Times.

At the same time, the editors of the Sun-Times became touts for corporate school reform, and the columnists, especially Mary Mitchell (who began her career as a report covering education) were in the tank for every twist and turn of the corporate agenda. (Mitchell told Substance write Grady Jordan back during the Vallas years that she was not allowed to write anything critical about CPS reforms; since then she's gotten comfortable with her role as chief "minority" tout for everything corporate...). Mitchell, of course, didn't pioneer the Sun-Times pundits' apologetics for corporate school reform, since that art was perfected during the Vallas years by the late Ray Coffey. She just continued an already established propaganda tread, as she does to this day.

Thus the February 3, 2012, hyperventilating report on the supposed scandal of "Unused Sick Days" at CPS was in a long and dishonorable tradition. With every twist and turn of the union-busting and teacher bashing agendas of Chicago's ruling class, the Sun-Times did a pirouette.

By using young "researchers" from Andy Shaw's Better Government Association instead of reporters to do the major story about the supposed scandal regarding CPS sick days, the Chicago Sun-Times continued its tradition of posting propaganda on behalf of corporate school reform in its news pages. The above story ran off a screaming headline on the front page on February 3, 2012. So it was no surprise that with the advent of the Era of Emanuel that the Sun-Times lined up, began to march, and "Hup Hup Hupped..." to each contortion of craziness proposed by the mayor on behalf of the latest iteration of corporate "reform."

At Substance, from time to time we take a poke at Sun-Times hypocrisy, just to see if it's still as ripe with the political pus it's been oozing for nearly two decades. Most recently, I wrote a letter to the editor about the "Sick Day" scandal that the Sun-Times touted (without even reporting it; the reporting was outsourced to the "Better Government Association" so editing costs were also saved). It's been more than four days, and nothing has been heard. So here is what I wrote:


I don't expect the Chicago Sun-Times to publish this letter, since you haven't published anything I've written or quoted anything I've reported in the 13 years since your owners ordered you to shut up about everything we've proved and reported about Chicago's schools since I was sued, fired and blacklisted by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former schools CEO Paul G. Vallas way back in 1999. But I have about an hour to write this tonight, and it's too much fun to ignore now that your are ooozing more and more of the hypocrisy we've been documenting for years. So here goes....

Although I've gotten used to reading most Sun-Times "news" stories about Chicago's public schools as propaganda (usually against the Chicago Teachers Union), the February 3, 2012, story about the Board of Education's policy on cashing in unused sick (and vacation) days may even be a new low for the new owners of the Sun-Times (isn't that Rahm Emanuel's millionaire buddies, by the way?)...

First, a question: Were the "reporters" who bylined that story reporting for the Sun-Times, edited by the Sun-Times, or were they researchers from the BGA (which is becoming a most unreliable source of unbiased information since Andy Shaw took over)? Although the Sun-Times long ago blurred just about every line between news and opinion, this may be a new low, even for you. I have a hunch that your "reporters" weren't your reporters. True or false? If so, how was I, as a reader, to know.

Second: As the Chicago Teachers Union and others have now pointed out, the policy whereby long-term employees of CPS can cash out unused sick days upon retirement is longstanding, and actually has been a great benefit to the children in many schools. The policy encourages teachers to take fewer sick days, thereby encouraging more continuity of instruction (and fewer substitute teacher days) in most city classrooms. The same applies to principals, unless we are now going to promote, as a matter of policy, the idea that teachers and principals should take as many days off as possible.


Third: The story becomes dishonest when it leaves out the fact that teachers can only cash out their unused sick days (most teachers don't get "vacation days" they can cash out; that's for administrators) upon retirement, which requires a minimum number of years service (most of it in the classroom or local school). Arne Duncan had neither the minimum number of years now any service in the classroom.

That's where the scandal is and will be as long as the Sun-Times and others promote the idea that an undercompetent outsider like Duncan can suddenly become, first, "Chief Executive Officer" of the nation's third largest school system, then U.S. Secretary of Education. When this whole debacle is over, Chicago is going to owe the rest of the USA a lot of apologies, beginning with the one for providing the nation with Duncan's version of education reform and Duncan's nonsensical "Race To The Top" program (both pioneered -- and failed -- in Chicago but thanks to marketing hype still being hyped nationally).

That's enough for now, unless the BGA and Sun-Times want to spend a bit of time learning about CPS finances, instead of just repeating talking points.

As the Sun-Times would know if its reporters bothered to study CPS finances, the sick and vacation day obligations are budgeted every year, and explicitly so in CPS budget reports (even those fantasy "Proposed Budgets"). Those payments are obligations, just like salaries and other benefits. They are not part of that fictional "$712 million deficit" that the Sun-Times mindlessly repeats. Were you to check the latest CAFR (for FY 2011), you would find that the year after your reporters reported Ron Huberman claiming that CPS would have a "billion dollar deficit" for FY 2011, CPS actually had a cash balance of more than $700 million at the end of that fiscal year.

The lies just grow larger, and more dangerous every time you irresponsibly report lies and half truths, out of context, as "news."


February 13, 2012 at 7:53 AM

By: Bob Busch

Let the Media be the Message

I try and avoid the Sun Times since they advised everyone to "Run a victory lap" when the pension reform law was signed. I also stopped supplying the paper to my school library after they wrote those inspiring words.

On a more personal level there is nothing in the paper anymore. Its size had shrunken to almost nothing at all. The Tuesday and Saturday editions are a real joke. More important, the content has become dated. Most of the news they report is at least three days old. It is a lot better, and cheaper, to view the news on line. So who cares what that rag writes?

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