MEDIA WATCH: Tribune's editorial on Karen Lewis showed class

One of the more interesting things about recent political events in Chicago has been an editorial comment published in the October 10, 2014 Chicago Tribune regarding Karen's health -- and then breaking with the Tribune's general anti-union bias, the editors got personal. And full of class.

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board member Bruce Dold (above) introduced the discussion between CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and CTU President Karen Lewis one year before the famous Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Here it is:

Dear Karen Lewis,

Just between you and us:

Remember your last visit with the Tribune Editorial Board, on May 7? You were full of pepper and vinegar. You said that "on a scale of 1 to 10," your Chicago Teachers Union would deliver a "15" effort to defeat Mayor Rahm Emanuel. You didn't say whether you'd take him on yourself. "This is how bad we are in Chicago," you mock-fumed, "that they're looking for a schoolteacher, right?"

When will we have Karen Lewis to tussle with again?

You were The Unleashed Karen. You were indignant, impatient, theatrical.

Until every other member of your considerable entourage, and all but one of us, walked out of our boardroom.

In an instant you became the caring, kindly teacher every parent wants for his or her child. You had spent much of an hour gazing uneasily at a strip of green-and-gold inlaid leather on our table. You leaped to say that the strip wasn't seated properly and ought to be repaired. Then you patiently explained which leather glue we should buy at which Chicago leather boutique. Being a science teacher, you explained the precise chemical properties in play when leather properly bonds with wood. Thus your gentle admonition: Not just any fine glue would do.

That's you, Ms. Lewis. Always committed. Always confounding. And always displaying some new and unexpected facet. You beat the mayor in a teachers strike; who knows what you'd do in a mayoral primary. A Tribune poll in August had you leading him, 43 percent to 39 percent.

But now, again, you confound us. Your union blames an unspecified "serious illness" for the hospitalization that has Chicago talking: What does this mean for the mayoral race?

We'll cop to wondering that ourselves. Even though it's the wrong question for the moment.

The right question: When will we have Karen Lewis to tussle with again?

And not just those of us on our editorial board. Many Chicagoans want to be in a rope pull with you some on your end of the rope, some on the other.

Since winning the CTU presidency four years ago, you've been a disruptive and delightful newcomer in the Chicago realm of politics and policy. That realm has no shortage of heirs riding on generations of family clout.

Then there's Karen Lewis.

You are nobody nobody sent. But you've made yourself essential to the debate in this metropolis to almost any debate, that is, about Chicago and its children, its schools, its finances, its direction. You're not yet a week in the hands of a medical team and already we miss you.

Many of your fellow Chicagoans have survived their own serious illnesses turbulent times of crisis but also of epiphany. Serious illness is an efficient teacher (although, we acknowledge, not a dues-paying member). Sometimes it teaches gratitude. One of our colleagues never will forget his own road to recovery, which ended with a Chicago-area surgeon named Tony DiGianfilippo murmuring, "You've become an uninteresting patient. No need for another appointment."

Ms. Lewis, all of us hope you soon become an uninteresting patient. However short or long your road, we'll all be waiting for you. We look forward to tussling again, on your side of an issue or some other. You've brightened Chicago.

And if you want to know whether we at the Tribune finally fixed the table, here's our offer:

Come back when you can to see if we got the job done, or if we need remedial chemistry from Chicago's lead teacher.


Chicago Tribune Editorial Board


October 11, 2014 at 11:35 AM

By: Bob Busch


It makes me sad to have to write this.If the Trib. is being nice to Karen,or even mentioning her name,it scares me.That newspaper

has sources in our soup,I am sure by now they know what is wrong with Karen.

October 12, 2014 at 7:40 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

What's 'wrong' with Karen...

One of the two major proclaimed mayoral candidates at this point (Bob Fioretti) successfully beat cancer, as those who have long known and admired him know. Whether or not the Chicago Tribune knows "what's wrong with Karen," the fact is that all we need to know (as members of the Chicago Teachers Union) is that Karen Lewis, supported first by her family and close friends and more broadly by thousands (or more admirers) is that Karen has a "serious illness" that she is successfully facing and fighting. The Tribune's brief moment in support of a fierce activist for justice was worth noting -- especially now since it came just three days before the Tribune blared from page one that it wants voters to vote for Bruce Rauner.

Ironically, the depletion of the reportorial ranks of Chicago's "news" organizations has left them bare and bereft. In 1987, the Tribune could send a top international reporter (in Chicago to kick back before going back overseas) to track down the "militant high school teachers led by some guy named George Schmidt) and explain why Jackie Vaughn was still leading a strike after the end of the strike's second week. Liz Sly got that story by sidling up to our friends in a bar and getting almost everyone to talk -- talk, talk. Top notch Chicago reporting, resulting in a major story about how those "militant high school teachers" were a force in the CTU.

That was 1987.

Now it's 2014, and the reportorial skills at Chicago's corporate news organizations are severely diminished. The Sun-Times is a joke; the Tribune, having survived Sam Zell though, is not far behind. Both (and all the other corporate "news" outlets) have abolished their farm systems and stripped their benches (to celebrate the post season in baseball with a metaphor).

So in 2014 they don't have a reporter who is enterprising enough to chase down George Schmidt, as Liz Sly was in 1987. And so, they are also unable to chase down the "facts" of the current Karen Lewis story. But really, all anyone should want to know is that Karen is fighting, with her usual fierceness, a "serious illness."

And that we are all confident she will work hard to get back without sacrificing health or family to continue her fierce fight for justice. The main suggestion has been prayers. Not a bad one. Liz Sly is an international legend, but the Chicago "news" business no longer produces women like that. We should be glad that the Chicago Teachers Union has produced women like those among the union's current leaders...

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