MEDIA WATCH: Another 'Dewey Defeats Truman' moment at the Chicago Tribune... District 299 blunder on Donoso removal another example of why you can't cover Chicago from Brooklyn

One of those "Dewey Defeats Truman" moments in Chicago journalism happened over the weekend of April 27 to April 29, 2012, and it needs to be discussed by everyone covering the explosive news coming out about Chicago's schools at this point in history. On the morning of April 27, 2012, the widely read blog "District" (hosted at the Chicago Tribune's "Chicago Now" environment) reported the following:

President Harry Truman, who had just been re-elected, holds up the front page of the Chicago Tribune, in a famous reminder to reporters and editors to get the facts very very straight no matter what the biases of the editors and owners. "No Reshuffling At CPS, Says CPS (By Alexander Russo, Friday [April 27, 2012] at 8:05 am. Rumors and curious emails have been swirling for weeks and increased steeply this week, but Noemi Donoso is still the chief education officer for CPS, according to CPS. There's been no change in the former Denver Public Schools administrator's portfolio of responsibilities. Her last day wasn't earlier this week. There wasn't an epic behind the scenes fight over senior staffing and who's really in control of things. Rumors about a reshuffling in Brizard's top staff are apparently no more than that."

At roughly 6:00 p.m. that afternoon, at the virtual end of the week's new cycle, CPS quietly issued the following statement (to just about everybody but Substance, which Becky Carroll pretends does not exist):

"CPS Chief Education Officer to Resign Post May 31, April 27, 2012. [Distributed by the CPS Office of Communications via the CPS website.]

"Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer, Dr. Noemi Donoso, has indicated her intention to resign to pursue national projects that will support the next generation of leaders in urban education. Her resignation will be effective May 31st. CPS will announce an interim Chief Education Officer prior to Dr. Donoso’s departure to ensure a smooth transition.

"Statement from CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard: 'Noemi’s commitment to improving the academic success of children is unmatched by most I have worked with in my 25 years as an educator. Her passion and expertise helped drive the instructional foundation we are creating to provide a high quality education for every student in our district. We wish her the very best in all of her future pursuits and thank her for her tireless efforts on behalf of Chicago Public School students.'

"Statement from Dr. Noemi Donoso:

"'It is with profound respect and appreciation for this district’s commitment to young people and a sense of optimism about the future of this city that I announce I am leaving the District. It has been a great honor to serve the children of Chicago Public Schools.'”

While the whole idea of the Tribune's "Chicago Now" has always been a bit questionable, the notion that a guy who is in Brooklyn, as Alexander Russo is, can seriously "cover" news about Chicago's schools needs to be thought through by everybody who enables it by commenting or otherwise playing footsy with a blog like "District" The real question, at this point, is why and how "Chicago Now" supports such an entity.

Ever since "District" went from Catalyst to the Tribune's blog nest, I've personally avoided commenting there. As readers remember, I was prolific there prior to that. But the Tribune's nest is never a place we should be comfortable in, let alone respect. I also never comment except in my own name, and we enforce that same rule at for reasons like the ones being discussed here.

Now this "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment. What was the point of reporting, on the same day that official confirmation finally came out about Donoso's departure, that she was not departing?

While we should feel sorry for any journalist who gets blind-sided so complete by a source, or sources, this is Chicago, where politics is played hardball and where news needs to be covered from the front lines, not from 800 miles away.

The rumors about the ouster of Noemi Donoso were available around CPS a week before Brizard & Co. issued the final press release, which was, factually, around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 27, 2012. (It went up on the CPS website with as little fanfare as possible).

Those of us who heard the rumores and asked for more sourcing held back on the story for several days.

Then, on Wednesday, April 25, 2012, it was obvious that something was up. That's when Donoso didn't show for the Board of Education meeting and the various CPS flacks and chieftans were playing "Noemi Who?" "Noemi Who?" is the current generation's variation of that silly old Chicago game that happens among those vying for influence when clout goes cold quickly. As one of our (now deceased) former staff members observed: "There is nothing colder than dead clout." One day, everyone vying for influence and position at CPS was acting like "Dr. Donoso" was a friend. The next day: "Noemi Who?"

Even with the evidence of the empty chair at the front of the Board meeting on April 25, it was advisable to hold back, since we at Substance were very skeptical that Jean-Claude Brizard and Rahm Emanuel would allow the loss of a third woman administrator during the same four month period. The jokes about Rahm and the ladies are getting more and more Chicago, and it might even be reported in a way that the "Rahhhmm!" vignette goes back up on the main stage at The Second City.

By the evening of Friday, April 27, 2012, it was confirmed that Noemi Donoso was out.

So we reported it the following day, then expanded our report to some history of the "CEdO" position as of today.

Context helps, as well as accurate reporting from the scene. The print edition of the Chicago Tribune got the story up on Saturday, April 28, with some context. The sad inaccuracy remained up at "Chicago Now" all weekend.

The Sun-Times got a longer story (adding the departure of Barbara Bowman, to make that four women, not just three) on April 29. Sadly, the Sun-Times added an unnecessary paragraph slamming Donoso, without attribution.

So the story is now out there, but the context still requires a lot of work, some of which we'll try to help with.

That brings us back to District 299's "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment. Maybe it's time to stop being an ersatz mouthpiece for certain factions and sources inside the labyrinth of CPS administration, and just pack up. What's the point of pretending to "report" from 800 miles away? All of us are going to make mistakes (it's virtually guaranteed in the news business while covering something as complex and byzantine as CPS plus City Hall plus Chicago), but this was a big one.

Along with most of my colleagues at Substance, I'll continue ignoring most of what rises and falls on the blogs simply because they encourage slander, libel, and sloppiness. Anonymous (and pseudonymous) is cowardice most of the time. And District 299 proves it just about every day. When we demand attribution at Substance, it's for a good reason. Too many people today have gotten in the habit of spewing anything because they are allowed, by the conventions of the blogs, to do so anonymously.

Now this gets really personal as we look back at the campaign waged against Noemi Donoso over the past five or six months, primarily on the blogs. What's sad is that one paragraph slipped into an otherwise decent piece yesterday (April 29) by Ros Rossi in the Sun-Times. All of us have been getting these "Noemi is a bitch..." stories from anonymous snipers for the past several months. That's part of the poison that the blogs have encouraged. It would be useful if there were an immediate end to anonymous blogging about CPS, since what's looming is the biggest confrontation in at least a quarter century, and it's going to divide the city for a decade or more once Rahm realizes that his playing with fire has caused the ignition of an explosion that will even singe his well controlled apparatus.

The fights that are coming aren't going to be waged behind the fig leaves of anonymous blogging, but in the third largest city in the USA in the school system that has pioneered some of the most odious policies of corporate school reform and provided the USA not only with our current president, but also with the U.S. Secretary of Education and a bushel of other top people in the administration (especially in education). Everyone who pretends to "cover" the education meat in Chicago should be doing so with a lot of shoe leather reporting from Chicago. Not pomposity and prattle from behind the fig leaves of "anonymous" or from a third of a continent away. 