Saturday, January 29, 2005

Dated January 29, 2005 at 3:20 pm

The Left-Wing Bias and Death of Public TV at WTTW, coming to a television near you.
WTTW's mess that is called public affairs programming: (1)"Chicago Left in Review" and (2) "Chicago Tonight Lite-- Bringing commercial local news features to Public TV."
WTTW continues to cover what it perceives as the full political spectrum: From the far left to the center to sports. What’s missing in that picture? If you don’t know, you appear to be qualified to work at WTTW. If you do, perhaps you would be happier somewhere else.
WTTW's Chicago Week in Review, aka a Center-Left Perspective on Chicago, or to keep it short, Chicago Left in Review. Either label would be a much more accurate description of the show, as it currently airs and has been airing for the last 25 years.
Please keep those pledge dollars coming to WTTW. There is only so much that George Soros can do.
Chicago Tonight continues its long, deep descent from a public policy show to sports, gadgets, health features, arts features, movie reviews, food features, play reviews, plant features, nut features and happy talk at its worst. “Anything, Dear God, but that drab public policy stuff” seems to be its new motto. Watch for the name change: "Sirott, friends and family"-- Bringing commercial local news features to public TV."
During Chicago Left in Review’s episode a week before the Republican State Central Committee (“SCC”) election of a new Republican State GOP Chairman in Springfield on January 15, 2005 and during its shows that followed over the last two weeks after the election—the host and his panel chose to ignore the event. Not a mention-- nothing, nada, zero, zip. The event attracted about 500 Republican activists, operatives, party functionaries, office holders and wannabees-- including more than 150 County, Ward and Township Committeemen; State GOP Chairman candidates Andy McKenna, Jr., Steve McGlynn, Jim Oberweis, John Cox and Jim Nalepa.

Andy McKenna, Jr., who is known for his father's and perhaps his own fundraising prowess and business contacts and who ran in the Republican U. S. Senate Primary in 2004, garnering 14% and a 4th out of 7 candidates finish, won the State GOP chairmanship vote, primarily because of the backing of the Illinois Republican Party Finance Committee, i.e., in large part the Chicago Metropolitan Republican Business Interests and Donors. McGlynn, who had campaigned vigorously for the position, withdrew prior to the vote when he saw he could not get a majority of the SCC weighted vote. Nalepa, who drew acclaim and cheers from the assembled for his stirring speech, came in a very distant second to McKenna-- who, in addition to the aforementioned money interests, had the New Republican Establishment behind him-- Lahood-Kirk, for sure, and most likely Cross. Of course, the New Republican Establishment and money interests go together like ham and cheese.

LaHood, of course, is Ray LaHood [R- Peoria; 18th Cong. Dist.], who has now formed an exploratory committee to decide whether to run for Governor. Ray LaHood, although he is pretty socially conservative, is not a modern economic conservative, and over-all, not a conservative’s conservative. He worries much more about deficits than keeping taxes and spending low and was one of only three Republicans to vote against the document that led the successful Republican Revolution in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1994, the Contract with America.

Indeed, LaHood was elected in 1994 to replace his then and current mentor, the retiring Congressman Bob Michel, the former minority leader who probably would have lost the Speaker position to Newt Gingrich. Many in the Republican Party thought Minority Leader Michel had grown too comfortable as the leader of a minority, as opposed to someone who was working to create a majority. The Michel-LaHood historical relationship may tell us something about where LaHood is coming from and how he would lead the Republican Party in Illinois, if he becomes the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Kirk, of course, is Congressman Mark Steven Kirk, who has tried, during his first four years as the North Shore’s 10th Cong. Dist. U. S. Representative, to wear the economic conservative/social liberal label that worked so well for former Cong. John Porter in the preceding 21 years. Kirk also adds a strong military preparedness and national security emphasis to the John Porter model.

However, the emerging core of Cong. Kirk’s current efforts is his attempt to become the leader of so-called Republican “moderates,” in the House, having recently formed a weekly Tuesday morning gathering of thirty-five or so U. S. Representatives who label themselves as such. Although his predecessor, Cong. Porter, faced a number of primary challenges from the right, including a strong one, or two or three, by Pro-Lifer Kathleen Sullivan,Kirk appears to be confident that he has little to fear from the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the 10th.

Longer term, Kirk will expect to have a larger role in both the state and national Party leadership. His leadership among moderates in the national Republican Party, combined with his willingness to play ball, to a large extent, with the economic conservatives, to cooperate on issues and legislation of importance to the Party leaders and to cooperate and support Speaker Hastert should help him achieve those goals.

Cross is, of course, state representative Tom Cross, the moderate Republican Leader of the Illinois Statehouse. Of course, the old fashioned among us would call Cross the Minority Leader in the statehouse. Cross worked hard and got a net gain of one state representative for the Republicans in the Statehouse in 2004 and it would have been two, but for a “Democratic plant,” beating a Republican in a Cicero district. Betty and Ed’s spirit lives on? In any case, Cross is a power because he is perceived as someone who has the smarts, intensity and finesse to become the Speaker of the Statehouse, some day. Indeed, his mentor is someone who knows something about becoming speaker—Illinois’ very own Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

The above LaHood-Kirk-Cross-McKenna schematic, which is borrowed in large part from Joe Morris' recent column in the Illinois Leader, has also gone unnoticed by the Chicago Left in Review. Even when the Left in Review deigns to have, as a panelist, an articulate conservative on the show, such as Chicago Sun-Times Business Editor Dan Miller or a balanced political editor and analyst such as CBS-2 News' Mike Flannery or ABC-7 News' Andy Shaw, they don’t and can’t do much to correct the left skew of Chicago Week in Review. That is set by the show’s host for the last twenty-five years—center/left [at best] Joel Weisman who apparently selects the topics and guests. Weisman, like most at WTTW involved in public affairs programming, seems unaware of the people and events that dominate the portion of the political spectrum that starts in the center and goes to the right.

In the world of the center lefties at WTTW, it must not be important as to who is the State GOP chairman. It isn't important to them that the schism in the State GOP represented in the tussle as to a new State GOP chairman was in large part not about pro-life and pro-choice, but much more about reformers and non-reformers. The WTTW center lefties missed the SCC vote, missed the candidates for State GOP Chairman, missed the election of Andy McKenna, missed the resurgence of a new GOP establishment, missed the battle between reformers and non-reformers. In short, they don’t seem to know much about Republicans and the Republican Party, and they couldn't care less about what those folks do.

Moreover, to the extent the host or panelists bring up the Republican Party on Chicago Left in Review, it appears mostly to enable them to put "Good Guy" Hats on moderate Republicans. So, State Treasurer and GOP State Chair [until Tuesday] Judy Baar Topinka, Ron Gidwitz and now Ray LaHood [who the moderates will accept as one of their own to advance their collective power] will get some kind words and attention from Chicago Left in Review. Not as much attention, of course, as Chicago Left in Review’s Democratic heroes and heroines, but attention nevertheless.

Illinois Republican conservatives, e.g., Jim Oberweis, Pat O’Malley, State Senator Peter Roskam, Cong. Henry Hyde, State Senator Rauschenberger, Joe Morris, Jack Roeser and John Cox will hardly ever be mentioned on Chicago Left in Review. And when they are, such as this week’s mention of Rauschenberger as a potential gubernatorial candidate, the show’s panelists will vie with each other to characterize a Rauschenberger as “an also ran” and unable to raise money—neither of which is accurate—but what the Hell, it’s WTTW, who said anything about being fair and balanced?

Across the set from Chicago Left in Review, WTTW's Chicago Tonight, which used to be the jewel of public affairs programming in Chicago, reached a new low this week when it led with a discussion of the Chicago Bulls and University of Illinois basketball. When Chicago Tonight changed its leadership team a year or two ago from John Callaway to Bob Sirott, Sirott cut the old public policy portion of the new one hour Chicago Tonight from 30 minutes to about 18 minutes or less, but at least CT made public policy the lead every night. Now that that precedent has been broken, watch for Chicago Tonight to achieve new lows in its coverage of public policy issues.

Apparently, a new mission statement has taken over at WTTW and Chicago Tonight. That mission, an odd one for public TV, seems to be to try to fill the gap of insufficient sports coverage by private, commercial TV. You hadn't noticed that the private media markets were lacking in coverage of sports? At least on one night this week, Chicago Tonight not only did not lead with Public Policy, it just did not have any “Public Policy discussion” anywhere in the show.

Week in Review may not have time for Chairman McKenna, or any of the other issues relating to the Republican Party, discussed above, but come Hell or high water, it has its 4 to 5 minutes of sports every week as a part of its 28 minute show. And, often, Chicago Left in Review is followed by Sirott's interview with a sports guy (last night it was Cubs’ icon Ernie Banks) or almost anybody who will keep the discussion light and fluffy, like a soft pillow to go to sleep with.

And don't get me wrong, Ernie Banks is fine. I just didn't think Newton Minow, who is still an icon at WTTW, had that in mind as the Public TV fix to what he labeled as the Vast Wasteland that characterized commercial TV more than 40 years ago. And now, WTTW is bringing the Vast Wasteland to a TV near you, with a lefty twist to it, of course.

And now, back to you, Bob. No, back to you Joel. No, back to you, Bob. From center to left to center to left, we have come full circle: One, intellectual dilution of Chicago Tonight to an emphasis on sports, gadgets, health, food reviews, plant reviews, movie reviews, theater reviews and nut reviews. Two, the Left bias of Chicago Week in Review gets worse, over time, not better. Three, new shows that are brought on and promoted intensely on WTTW would be a new look at public policy? No, not unless you count “Check, Please” and food reviews as public policy. Yes, there is Tucker Carlson, Unfiltered. But, that show is surely not the answer [as PBS' President tried to argue recently] to Bill Moyers, or what has become Moyer's sidekick's show

So, this is where Minow’s effort and financial support took public TV? He must be sad. I know I am.

Well, yes, Chicago Tonight, although dumbed down in large part, still does have some good segments. But, you don’t need a weathervane or a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing at WTTW's Channel 11 in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Good night, Bob. Good night, John. Good night, Randy. Good night, Dan. Goodnight to WTTW and all of its friends on the center/left. And folks, please keep those pledge dollars coming. There is only so much that George Soros can do.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at