MEDIA WATCH: From Ernie Pyle to Marie Colvin... Why we report the news we see, and reasons to be enraged at scribes who simply recycle official lies

It's almost a given in Chicago today that there are a half dozen propaganda hacks plying the official narrative of a story for every reporter who is trying to dig the facts out from under a pile of official manure. Others can report, as history, whether the compost heaps got larger or just more obvious after Rahm Emanuel took over at City Hall in May 2011, but in reality things have always been this way. For all the problems faced by real reporters in any real place like Chicago, however, we need sometimes to be reminded that from Syria to Mexico, in many places journalists are used to target practice (or worse). So, in context, in Chicago during the Reign of Rahm we don't have it so bad. Even the math challenged CPS "Chief Officer, Communications," Becky Carroll, isn't peeling the faces off reporters before killing them, as the drug gangs are now in Mexico, or ordering an artillery attack on news organization, as the Assad military is doing in Syria.

A reporter at work, notebooks and pen in hand. Chicago reporters don't have much to worry about, as the above photo illustrates. Above, Times of London reporter Marie Colvin taking notes in Homs, Syria, in February 2012 shortly before Syrian Army artillery targeted the location where reporters were working and killed her. This photograph, by John Conroy, appears in the August 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, which Substance hopes our readers will buy after they have made sure they have their subscriptions to the print edition of Substance as well.During the past couple of years, including the past week, Substance has been asked to "report" stories without our covering them. We have insisted on a couple of simple rules that our readers can count on. But that's not the way it works, or should work. You can't cover Chicago's schools from Brooklyn, no matter how self-important you think you are, any more than you can cover the massacres in Syria from here in Chicago. Reporters have to report what they see and learn, as one book I used to teach reminded us: "Quote source and context." Often, context is as important as any source. So there are a few rules, worth repeating as Chicago school reporting goes into one of the most important six month periods in its history.

First, if Substance bylines a story, we are saying our reporter was there. Our bylines tell our readers that fact. Whether it's Marybeth Foley reporting from a meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (sitting grimly and taking notes while other things flare around) or Sharon Schmidt, Susan Zupan, David Stone, Howard Heath, David Vance and I trying to cover the vast reality of May 23, our readers deserve to know who is telling this story, and be assured that we were on the story, not remotely about it. Rich Gibson made it back to the NEA "RA" again. And so on. Second, we have done our best to check the facts — even giving those who spew and spread nonsense and lies a chance to respond. Hence, on June 5, I called Becky Carroll's CPS "Office of Communications" (which contrary to some reports, has tripled in size in the past 24 months; as the new CPS budget shows). I asked where the Board of Education was going to hold its press conference releasing the Proposed Budget. As usual, "Communications" said "Well get back to you on that" (and never did).

Of course they weren't going to hold a press conferernce. If that happened, Jean-Claude Brizard would have to ask questions in real time, like all of his predecessors did, about his budget. That would only make clear how mendacious this whole reality has become (and probably how little Brizard knows about the workings of the school system that's paying him a quarter million dollars a year as its "Chief Executive Officer").

Every reporter is taught that all governments lie, and that reporters' jobs are to expose the lies when they are worth exposing. But lately in Chicago, this official lying has reached some ludicrous and unprecedented heights. Since Rahm Emanuel took over the third largest school system in the USA, the official lies have taken on an Alice in Wonderland quality. If Rahm says it, count on the opposite being the likely truth (or at least the facts). The Rahm Emanuel admnistration has talked more "transparency" and practiced less than any group of liars in recent Chicago history, and the official source of the lies for CPS is the "Office of Communications," which the newly released budget shows has reached the largest and most expensive iteration of itself in history.

Marie Colvin's passport.So, the lies go on in Chicago. And during the second week of July 2012, the latest spin will be on display as the liars try to hold hearings on their proposed budget while trying to keep everything safely within the confines of scripts and spin. They have even decided to hold all of the hearings simultaneously, so that TV cameras are unlikely to get to all of them and possibly hear someone from the public exposing yet another sad mendacious official reality.

But sometimes Substance reporters are asked, "Why bother?"

And every now and then, a very dramatic example comes for us to ponder. As most reporters know, 2011 and 2012 were very dangerous years for reporters. Some reports have it that more of us were killed during those years than at any time in history. And since more than three dozen American reporters were killed during World War II (including Ernie Pyle, killed during the same "battle" my mother was enduring as an Army nurse — Okinawa), that's saying something. But reporters have to be where the reality is, not taking someone else's word for reality. Or pretending to cover a city from 800 miles away (like District does for the Chicago Tribune's blogs). Or pretending to cover the Astroturf grouplets being deployed against Chicago's public schools by turning over their content pages to those very Astroturf groups (like Catalyst has recently done, failing to mention that the same foundations that fund Catalyst's official version of "independent" reporting also fund the Astroturfers). At any time when a Chicago reporter covering, of all things, the public schools, has a little problem and some worries about retaliation from those with more power and money than we have at Substance, we have to remind ourselves of the realities of now and the job we do.

One of the reasons I subscribe to a variety of publications is that they give us a window into the various narratives that are supposed to steer people (usually in the direction of the official version of current events). During the past 15 months, the shallow "Waiting for Superman" version of the public education narrative has been peddled by the disciples of Rahm Emanuel locally (Chicago magazine), nationally (the Atlantic) and internationally (the Economist). In each of those versions (really, rather tepid rewrites of the same script engineered by Rahm's team of apologists, both those who work at City Hall and those in the private outposts of the same propaganda) the same narrative lie dominates. Rahm, the hero, is taking on the bad guys (the teachers and their union) and pushing "reform" for the good of the kids ("... kids got the shaft..." read one headline, quoting Rahm about how the CTU operates) and working energetically from dawn (his workouts energetically welcoming the Chicago sun each morning) until day's end (although some of those more private moments are kept skillfully from the world, known only then to bodyguards and a handful of carefully vetted insiders).

A reason to buy the August 2012 issue of Vanity Fair.And generally, Chicago reporters preen themselves on memories of those thrilling days of yesteryear (Mike Royko, who scabbed during his final days as the working class's thrust into ruling class apologetics) while looking the other way at the realities of today (Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times, with her high school girl crush on Rahm; Mary Mitchell writing the same sermons she began writing when Paul Vallas was chieftain of the schools and she told our people she could not write anything critical about Chicago's version of "school reform")...

Then there is Vanity Fair.

Who would think that a monthly magazine seeped in celebrity reporting (although not the shallow "People" or "AOL Home Page" nonsense) and some of the most beautiful ads ever photographed would also be doing some of the best investigative reporting since Penthouse went out of business a decade ago (just as one of their reporters was preparing the story about how those with power in Chicago were trying to shut down Substance and silence this reporter)?

But when the August edition of Vanity Fair arrived, it wasn't only the story on how Mitt Romney was following the example of the Pritzkers. That's the backstory to the new story on Mitt Romney's treason: Offshoring profits and tax dodges through trusts was virtually invented a couple of generations back by the Pritzkers of Chicago; A.N. was a genius — and his dynasty has been in place with all of its treasonous dodges of American law ever since he walked the streets of Chicago's New Deal West Side back in the days when he was profiting from both the New Deal's Jacob Arvey and Al Capone. As the Vanity Fair story about Mitt points out, what's really frightening about the contemporary Gilded Age crooks at the top of the Plutocracy is not that they are wealthy (in proportion to the wealth of the working class) as the Rockefellers and Carnegies were in the days of William McKinley and J.P. Morgan, but that all of their treasons to the nation that birthed them and guarded their profits are legal.

Which brings us back to reporting, and why reporters are still important.

Even more important than the Mitt Romney story in the August 2012 edition of Vanity Fair is the story about Marie Colvin, who was killed by the monsters of Syria in February 2012, one of the many reporters and other journalists to die in action during the past two years, from Mexico to Libya to Syria.

Since print publications have to stick together under certain circumstances, let's just share the lede for the lengthy Vanity Fair story on just one of our sisters who paid the ultimate price to get the story straight during the past couple of years. The others are too numerous to list.

The Late Marie Colvin: “I Feel Like I Am the Last Reporter in the YouTube World” by Vanity Fair 12:00 AM, JULY 6 2012

“My darling, I have come back in to Baba Amr, the besieged neighbourhood of Homs, and am now freezing in my hovel with no windows. I just thought, I cannot cover the modern day Srebrenica from the suburbs,” London Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin wrote in an e-mail to her boyfriend Richard Flaye. “I will do one more week here, and then leave. Every day is a horror.” It was the last e-mail she would ever send him. Vanity Fair writer-at-large Marie Brenner talked to those people who knew Colvin best for a story on the correspondent’s life in the August issue. “Every bone in my body is telling me not to do this,” Paul Conroy, the English photographer who was with her when she died, recalls telling Colvin as they left for Syria. “Those are your concerns. I’m going in no matter what,” she said.

Ernie Pyle's body shortly after he was killed by a Japanese machine gun during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. "A photo was released yesterday that had never seen the light of day before. In it, what appears to be a WW2 soldier, cap in hand, was laying back, seemingly asleep. It was a picture, however, of World War 2 news correspondent Ernie Pyle immediately after he had been killed by a Japanese machine gun bullet to the temple as he was 'embedded' (using a modern-day term there) with the US Army's 77th Infantry Division on the Japanese island of Ie Shima, just off the west coast of Okinawa. Pyle was unique in his reporting and his first and foremost concern was nothing other than about the soldiers he was writing about. It was a different time, a different era and it encompassed a different attitude towards the reporting of the events and the men who made them, and Ernie Pyle was loved by those soldiers as a result.
Indeed, after his death, the 77th Infantry Division erected a memorial to Pyle on the site where he died, later made permanent with a more appropriate and larger monument, inscribed with the words: 'At This Spot, The 77th Infantry Division Lost A Buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April, 1945.' The photo and narrative here, thanks to
“If The Sunday Times had not allowed Marie to continue the work she loved, it would have destroyed her,” said Colvin’s executor, Jane Wellesley. But others believe Colvin’s editors allowed her back into war zones when her recent state of fragility was widely known.

“They would put us in all kinds of danger,” one correspondent angrily tells Brenner, who overheard one writer say, “The Sunday Times has blood on its hands,” at a Frontline celebration of Colvin and her work. Colvin would disagree; she fought not only to report the truth about those suffering in the world’s most troubled conflict zones but also for a profession she felt was dying in the Internet age. “How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?” she told a friend. “I feel like I am the last reporter in the YouTube world.”

Well, those who want the story can get a copy of the August 2012 Vanity Fair. The Mitt Romney story is also worth some time. Like I said, Mitt's a traitor, making his money on the backs of everyone who sacrificed to create the USA and then hoarding it like one of those stories from the ancient Greeks. Sadly, though, his treasons are legal, and he is far from alone.


July 9, 2012 at 1:02 AM

By: Jim Vail

Dying reporters

Sad to say, but if you want real change, you got to fight, and it gets dangerous.

There are numerous stories of journalists who die for the real story. These are truly heroes bringing a truth the 1% and their dominions hate, and they will kill you if they can't silence you.

We have to remember Gary Webb, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who broke one hell of a story about the CIA helping to traffic drugs into LA, and suddenly he was no longer employable.

His reporting, that was of course trashed by our state run propaganda rags NY Times and Washington Post, was mostly based on grand jury testimonies, government evidence, that even the CIA later admitted was mostly true.

They silenced him, and being a true reporter with no where to report, he shot himself. Read "Dark Alliance" and you'll understand a little better how our government works and why people like Webb who broke the story need to die.

Then you have Anna Politkovskaya, a wacky war correspondent reporting on the Russian quagmire in Chechnya, and they killed her. Read her book Putin's Diary, and you'll know why.

And another very good reporter I knew in Moscow Paul Khlebnikov, also killed for his wonderful reporting on the Yeltin oligarchs like Berozovsky, who was lecturing World Bank seminars in the US until Putin kicked him out. Read his book "Godfather of the Kremlin" and you'll know why he was killed. The fact that he published Forbes magazine in Russian and listed the top 100 richest Russians pretty much made his trip to the grave much quicker since that kind of 'transparency' Russian oligarchs simply do not want.

So they will kill you when you report the truth — the truth about how fucked we are in this world of thieves that walk in suits a la Obama or Rahm or Romney or whoever gets on TV and says vote for me, while pocketing their blood money for another day in the limelight.

God Bless the reporters who report this — and I pray they do not die in vain.

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