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Thursday, April 15, 2010 01:12 am

Media go overboard to hammer Democrats

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Alexi Giannoulias
PHOTO BY PHIL VELASQUEZ/MCT

It seems like everywhere you look these days, the Illinois Democrats are getting hammered.

Most of the Democratic carnage is self-inflicted, like the Scott Lee Cohen debacle, or the brutal gubernatorial primary, or the troubles at U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias’ family bank, or the decision to run a lobbyist with close connections to House Speaker Michael Madigan for Cook County Assessor.

But some of the media coverage is going far over the top lately, and a few people in Chicago really need to take a breath already.

The media went off their collective rocker in the closing years of George Ryan’s term and the Republican Party paid a steep price for a very long time. I wrote quite a few stories about media overreach back then, and I think it’s past time for another one. Let’s look at just a few examples, shall we?

On behalf of a law firm client, Senate President John Cullerton persuades Cook County to open up a decades-old no-bid traffic school contract to competitive bidding. Millions of dollars are saved and Cullerton’s client loses the open bidding process, but the Sun-Times whacks Cullerton for engaging in a “clout fight” because the other side had a lobbyist with ties to the Daley family. This story really crystallizes how truly strange things have become with the Chicago media. Money is saved, the people are better served, an old contract is finally opened up to competition and it’s somehow a bad thing. Bizarre.

Giannoulias’ family bank is allegedly ripped off by a widely respected business owner (Boston Blackies, Carson’s Ribs) who also contributed to Giannoulias’ state treasurer’s campaign. The bank is obviously a victim here, but Giannoulias is repeatedly hammered because the reporters and editors engaging in a wild feeding frenzy apparently don’t stop to think about what they’re really doing. Overboard.

The disgraced, notoriously unstable, former governor, Rod Blagojevich, says on a Chicago radio show that he suspects the White House wants to push Giannoulias off the ticket and the city’s punditocracy picks it up and repeats it as gospel, without, of course, attributing the theory to the discredited, unreliable Blagojevich or identifying a single source – even an anonymous source – at the White House who will confirm it. And now it seems that some are trying to will the crackpot Blagojevich’s theory into existence. Crazy.

The Tribune editorial board slams Democrats in the General Assembly on the front page of the Sunday paper for not balancing the budget, which the board says shouldn’t be so difficult. The edit board puts forth its own budget cutting plan, which consists of cutting half the deficit and then claiming those reductions will magically solve the whole problem in two years. Um, $13 billion minus $6.5 billion does not equal zero, Tribune. Not to mention that many of the Tribune’s cuts aren’t really spelled out. Stupid.

The Tribune editorial page and Crain’s Chicago Business loudly tout a recent study that claims Illinois “would collect an additional $2.1 billion in annual tax revenue” if it had as many jobs as it did a decade ago. Well, sure, but if the sky was green then grass might be blue. Anybody notice China over there? Or Mexico? Or the two recessions in the last decade, including this really big one we’re in now? Sure there’s a lot of work to be done here, but how much cash would the sainted Indiana have if it had all the jobs it lost in the last ten years? Even more ludicrous is the stated claim that the $2.1 billion the state would get from those lost jobs would be “enough to fill roughly half of [the state’s] fiscal 2011 budget hole.” Half of $13 billion is not $2.1 billion. Not even “roughly.” Nuts.

The problems in this state are wide and deep. No question about it. The Democrats deserve the blame for many of the problems because they’ve been running the show (although you can hardly blame them for the national economic collapse). But this very disturbing media trend of making stuff up or creating controversy out of thin air really needs to end. It’s wholly irresponsible and is yellow journalism of the worst kind.

There’s more than enough material to jab the Illinois Democrats without all this insane goofiness.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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