Friday, February 25, 2005

CBS-2 News Chicago Screws Up

Can’t anybody here play this game? [Casey Stengel, commenting in frustration, about his 1962 New York Mets and a good line perhaps for the CBS-2 News Director]
Jeff Berkowitz: So, you think you can live with all of those cuts [in spending].

Cook County Board President Stroger: I am certain I can. You have to. I want this government to run smoothly, okay.
Cook County Board President Stroger, Thursday evening press conference following the County Board meeting and vote on the Cook County 2004-2005 Budget.
If you watched CBS-2’s 10:00 pm news last night [Thursday], the transcribed clips, below, from anchor Antonio Mora and Dana Kozlov make up the gist of what you heard regarding the Cook County Board Budget meeting and votes on Thursday, and, boy, did they get it wrong:

Antonio Mora: …[Cook County] Commissioners managed to balance the budget without adding or raising taxes. But, as CBS-2’s Dana Kozlov tells us, they did it by making cuts and that could impact jobs and services.

Dana Kozlov: ...After two days of often heated debate and personal jabs, [Cook County] Board members finally reached a budget deal before the February 28th deadline…Their solution: spending cuts instead of a President [Stroger] proposed restaurant and hotel tax hike to fill a 73 million dollar budget hole. But no new taxes mean cuts across the board [cuts across the Board? Certainly there were not cuts across the entire Cook County government structure] and that includes cuts in County Hospital. Right now, that could mean limiting care to Cook County residents, eliminating five operating rooms at Stroger [Cook County] Hospital and downscaling programs, including subsidized health services. President Stroger personally opposed any health related cuts and threatened to veto that portion of the deal. It’s a threat still dangling by a thread…
Gentleladies and Gentlemen, we are talking about a 3 billion dollar plus budget with 26,000 plus employees and about a 2% total cut in spending in that budget. Would you, if you were the County Board President, carry out that board mandated cut by cutting out operating rooms in a hospital? Apparently, that seemed reasonable to CBS-2 News anchor Antonio Mora and CBS-2 News reporter Dana Kozlov.

But, if CBS- 2 News Anchor Mora and 2- News reporter Kozlov had talked with the majority of the Cook County Board members, including Democrats Claypool, Quigley and Suffredin and Republican Peraica [the Gang of 4]; and Republicans Hansen, Silvestri, Goslin and Gorman, who with the Gang of 4 make up the Gang of 8; and a ninth Cook County Board Member- Democrat Collins- whose vote for the budget cuts resulted in a majority Gang of 9, Mora and Kozlov would have learned that a clear County Board majority supported the cuts and they don’t think any of the dire consequences, threatened by President Stroger and his staff, of limiting care to Cook County residents, eliminating operating rooms, etc. will happen as a result of the budget cuts.

For example, Commissioner Claypool would have told Mora and Kozlov that Cook County would cut out such services as operating rooms, etc., only if the President preferred maintaining patronage jobs to serving the needs of poor people. Shouldn’t the majority of County Board members count for something when CBS-2 News reports the news? Where were the thoughts of Commissioners Claypool, Quigley, Peraica, Suffredin, et al in Dana Kozlov's report? Not included, folks-- nada, zip, zero-- no weight whatsover. Fair and balanced reporting? I don't think so.

There are surely some, if not all, among the now minority [in number, not race] eight County Board members on the spending cut issue who would also concede that warnings of service cuts were simply scare tactics employed by President Stroger in an attempt to get his hotel, motel and restaurant tax increases passed by the County Board. Especially, if you made use of some truth serum. Indeed, as you can see below, by last night, even President Stroger was running from the dire consequences predicted by his appointee of last year, Cook County Health Director Dr. Daniel Winship.

Also, the jobs lost by the Stroger tax increase driving away convention, hotel and restaurant business would swamp any loss of Cook County government jobs. I would imagine CBS-2 News anchor Antonio Mora would know this, wouldn’t you? Moreover, the purpose of Cook County Government should not be to provide jobs, patronage or otherwise. It should be to provide needed services to the citizens of Cook County as efficiently as possible. So, why is Antonio lamenting the loss of jobs in Cook County government? A loss that probably won’t even occur.

How did CBS-2 News screw this report up so badly? Why did it ignore the clear majority view on the County Board and report the minority view almost as if it were fact? These are good questions, don’t you think? Do you think anyone in the Chicago mainstream media might ask someone high up at CBS-2 News those questions? I think someone ought to, don’t you?

Moreover, somebody high up in the CBS-2 News ought to be asking these questions of the people responsible for last night's report. Don't they care about ratings? If this is what CBS-2 News stands for, would you expect anyone to watch it if they were interested in an accurate report about public policy and politics?

Sure, Kozlov did not say what the cuts "would" mean. She said that the cuts “could” mean limiting care and eliminating operating rooms. And, that “could” be. In the same sense that I “could” be President of the United states in 2008. Or, I could be batting clean-up in April for the Chicago Cubs. Although any of the events "could" happen, I think we can say with virtual certainty that they won’t. And, at a minimum, more Cook County Commissioners would have told Kozlov that the operating rooms would not be eliminated than would have told her that they would be, if she had asked. So, why was Kozlov reporting the latter and not the former? Why, indeed?

I think Kozlov and Mora strike me as hard working and competent news people, so how could this happen? My guess is that both read copy written by somebody less knowledgeable than they are—or maybe the copy was taken from press releases from President Stroger. I don’t know why this happened. I surely don’t have the facts on that, yet. But, we could speculate that Mora and Kozlov didn’t write what they said. My gosh, saying it “on air,” was bad enough. That is one reason why I would never read anyone else’s copy. If I can’t write it or think it, I won’t say it. Words to live by.
Indeed, I think you get an even better sense of what is going on with the Cook County Board by listening to President Stroger in his own words, below. President Stroger answered questions from the media after the Board passed its budget and adjourned around 7:00 pm on Thursday evening [Feb. 24]. Perhaps Dana and Antonio were at the press conference- but I didn’t see them. However, CBS was represented at the Press Conference.
Jeff Berkowitz: Since you didn’t get your tax increase, would you say this is a defeat for you.

Cook County Board President John Stroger: No, this was a victory for the County Board Commissioners, it was a victory for the people of Cook County—the fact that we got a budget-- we are able to carry forth our business. No, I don’t take that personally. I may argue sometimes in a personal way but I don’t take that personally.

Berkowitz: Do you think this affects whether you are going to run for County Board President-- for re-election?

Stroger: No, only Mrs. Stroger and God can make that determination.

Another reporter, No. 1: Are you really going to close those clinics or is that just something that was put forward as persuasion to try to change the vote?

Stroger: Oh, no, no, no. First place, I didn’t make the suggestion of the impact on the budget, that was left for Dr. Winship and his staff to make recommendations, I would never go out single-handedly and say that we are going to close up any clinics.

Another reporter, No. 1: Will they close, or—

Stroger: I told you I have to talk with Dr. Winship. But, above all, the State’s Attorney came to me before we left and asked me not to make any moves until after he had reviewed the transcript and I plan to follow his recommendation.

Another reporter No. 1: If you do veto, will you keep it revenue neutral, same amount? That way, it [the budget] will still remain in balance.

Stroger: I will talk with the finance people. But, if we go forward with the veto, which I hope we don’t have to do, we would definitely want to have a balanced type budget. And, if we don’t have a balanced budget, we are going to have to make a lot of adjustments. Not me personally, but the people in the Finance Department.

Jeff Berkowitz: Do you think it is [now] more likely that you may face a challenge in the primary?

President John Stroger: It’s the possibility but this is the political game. You run for an office, you have a right to have a challenger.

Berkowitz: Do you think [Clerk of the Cook County Court] Dorothy Brown is likely to challenge you?

Stroger: She’d be a great challenger. She is a very nice person.
Berkowitz: Just one [more] thing. In light of what happened, do you think you should have negotiated those cuts in spending, rather than have them fought out on the floor, here, today?

Stroger: No, I think we used the right strategy. It worked, didn’t it?

Berkowitz: Did it? You are happy with those cuts?

Stroger: I am happy with everything that went down. All of the commissioners felt like they had a part in this process and that’s very important.

Berkowitz: So, you think you can live with all of those cuts [in spending].

Stroger: I am certain I can. You have to. I want this government to run smoothly, okay.

Berkowitz: Why did the people [Cook County Staff] talk about closing down the clinics if it is not really going to be necessary?

Stroger: No, because when they put through the Hansen bill—amendment, we wanted to know what the impact was because we wasn’t certain what we were going to do to balance the budget. We came to the conclusion after the balancing of the budget and the State’s Attorney walked up to me and said, I would like for you to reconsider that-- and I said I promised the people that if we didn’t get everything I’d, uh, veto it and they said, from a legal viewpoint we are studying this and we’d like for you to wait.

Another reporter, No. 2: I have just one question. If you don’t end up vetoing it, does that sort of prove your opponents’ point that there were cuts that could be afforded.

Stroger: Now, what are you talking about—at this point?

Another reporter, No. 2: Well—

Stroger: Obviously, there’s always some cuts that can be made in any budget and one of that size. But, the question becomes, what kind of impact will these cuts have? Dr. Winship told us, and you heard him—what he said, based on his experience as a former dean of a medical school—two medical schools; secretary of the Veterans’ Hospitals that he thought we would have an adverse impact in the manner in which he explained.

Another reporter, No. 2: But now you are saying you can live with the cuts.

County Board President John Stroger: The lawyers asked me to let them review the material and talk with them tomorrow. But, I will also ask Dr. Winship to have his staff look at everything and also let us know what they can do. But, we don’t want to keep a fight going on for no reason, whatsoever. If I find out that this thing can work successfully, I don’t need to veto it.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at