Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fox's Walter Jacobson fumbles On The Air; Surprisingly, So does Jack Conaty

During the seven candidate March, 2004 Democratic U. S. Senate Primary in Illinois, which was before the U. S. Attorney’s public corruption investigation started sucking the very life out of the Daley administration, the Chicago Mayor’s endorsement was highly coveted. Any of the Primary candidates would have been thrilled to have the Mayor’s blessing, along with the machine’s ability to put workers in the wards and palm cards in the hands of voters who did what they were told.

However, anyone who watched the Democratic U. S. Senate primary closely in 2004 can tell you that Mayor Daley never endorsed any of the candidates, but it was speculated widely that the Mayor leaned toward Dan Hynes, reflecting the Daley-Hynes old family ties—and the Mayor’s brother, John Daley, helped send that message, as John Daley, Chairman of the Finance Committee for the Cook County Board endorsed State Comptroller Dan Hynes [See here].

Notwithstanding the above, on Sunday morning [August 7, 2005], a rather different picture was painted by Fox Chicago Perspective’s [Airing every Sunday morning, 8:00 am to 9:00 am, WFLD, Ch. 32 (Ch. 12 on Comcast Cable on the North Shore) anchor, Walter Jacobson and Walter’s de facto if not de jure co-anchor for that show, Jack Conaty. Fox Chicago Perspective first showed their viewers a video clip of Senator Barack Obama [D- IL] hedging his views [when questioned earlier in the week by Fran Spielman] on whether he would support Mayor Daley’s re-election if Daley ran for re-election in 2007. [See here for the Spielman-Obama exchange].

Then Jacobson-Conaty launched into a bizarre colloquy:
Jack Conaty: …Interestingly enough, he [Senator Obama] won’t, he won’t get—he won’t quite go out there with the Mayor, what do you make of—

Walter Jacobson: Well, you know it is difficult for him. You’ve got to feel a little bit of sympathy for the guy because you know [Mayor] Daley supported him [Obama] 100% in the race for the U. S. Senate.

Conaty: Yes, he did.

Jacobson: Loyalty is such a crucial thing, as we know in politics. And, I am sure he was perspiring gracefully while he was being asked those questions. There is nothing else he can do. I mean, he can’t come out right now and say he is for Daley. The race isn’t even for another year and a half—

Conaty: And, he is also very close to the Jackson family. It is going to be interesting to watch this…
For starters, I suppose it is OK for Conaty to find it interesting that Senator Obama “won’t go there,”—if by that Conaty means, Senator Obama won’t endorse Mayor Daley, at least now, in Daley’s potential bid for re-election in 2007. [See here for the Mayor on whether he will run]. Of course, there is no real reason for Obama to endorse the Mayor, especially now. He [Senator Obama] owes Mayor Daley nothing. He is close with the Jacksons and Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. may run against the Mayor. So, why it is interesting that Senator Obama won’t “quite go out there with the Mayor,” I have no idea.

But then Walter drops this on Jack [and his viewers], “[Mayor] Daley supported him [Obama] 100% in the race for the U. S. Senate.”

Really now-- what is that assertion based on? Talk to any players and pundits who follow politics closely—and they will tell you—Mayor Daley was officially neutral in the 2004 Democratic Senate Primary, but there was speculation that the Mayor supported Hynes.

If Mayor Daley supported Barack Obama in the Democratic U. S. Senate Primary, it was the best kept secret in Illinois. Such an endorsement never made its way into any media reports—as confirmed by Google. And, nobody seems to have heard about it other than Jacobson and--- Jack Conaty, who responded to Jacobson’s statement that Mayor Daley supported Obama 100%, with a “Yes, he did.”

Just to be on the safe side, I called Senator Obama’s press office to run this by his Communications Director to get his comments, but the Senator’s press office has not responded.

In any case, it would appear that Fox Chicago Perspective has a problem of credibility. Obviously, we all make mistakes in television. We say a wrong word, forget a name for a second, etc. However, this could not have been that type of a mistake. The video clip had been pulled and the segment, like so much of what Fox Chicago Perspectives does, gave every appearance of being rehearsed and orchestrated, and much of the show is shot prior to Sunday. Even if the show is live to tape, some thought should have been given to whom Mayor Daley supported in the 2004 Democratic Senate Primary if Walter and Jack were going to be discussing the, by then famous, Spielman- Obama exchange.

So how would Jacobson and Conaty explain the above? That’s a good question. I suppose they could say they were referring to the general election. But, that would make no sense. Everybody, including half the Republican Party supported Barack Obama in his 70%-27% blow-out over Alan Keyes. Moreover, Mayor Daley is not exactly known for supporting Republicans in general elections, and Keyes certainly wouldn’t have been the time to start. Senator Obama doesn’t owe Mayor Daley for that support—and nobody in his right mind would so contend

Perhaps Jacobson-Conaty will send me a note of explanation. If so, I will be happy to post it on this blog.

And this is not the first time Walter has suggested something to Jack on Chicago Perspective that wasn’t quite right. Usually when that happens, Jack disagrees, changes the subject or spills his coffee. So it was truly surprising that Jack agreed with Walter. Perhaps, Jack just wasn’t listening to Walter. You could understand why. It does seem as if it is time for Walter to open that bookstore, which he often references as his long time dream—before Conaty is faced with some more nightmares, airing on Sunday morning.

Before anybody misconstrues the broader implications of this post, I should emphasize that the local Fox affiliate, WFLD, should be applauded for Fox Chicago Perspective. It is the only local Chicago TV station devoting a substantial portion of its on air time to state and local politics and public policy.

True, when you take out the numerous weather and sports updates, international and national news updates and miscellaneous junk, the one hour time slot is reduced to, at best, thirty minutes of state and local public policy and politics. However, that is much better than any other Chicago local station. CBS-2 News has, at best, eight minutes on its Sunday night “Eye on Chicago,” devoted to state/local public policy. NBC-5 News has reduced “City Desk,” to ten minutes in it’s Sunday morning slot. ABC-7 News has about eight minutes of “Newsviews,” in its Sunday morning slot. WTTW-11 [Public TV] has started Chicago Sunday, which seems to average eight minutes of public policy and politics, and that segment is often a re-run from Chicago Tonight or vice-versa. WGN-9 News has no public policy and politics offering, on Sunday or apparently any other time, for that matter.

The problem with 2, 5, 7 and 11 as to their Sunday public policy and politics shows is that they either do it the wrong way, have the wrong personnel, or both. So, the ratings are inevitably poor and they say, “See, it doesn’t pay to do politics.”

Now, the same is happening with Fox Chicago Perspective. If the TV stations put out stuff with the wrong people and do it in a way that gives them zero credibility—well then, of course, their ratings will be low.

However, if they improve the format and improve the personnel, which if they do it right- shouldn’t cost them more—indeed, it might cost less-- well, then-- the ratings will improve.

Good presentation of politics and public policy is good commercial TV and good TV is good for the bottom line. Perhaps somebody will try it sometime. What do they have to lose? Further, they might look for a local, media personality who does political/public policy shows in a challenging, provocative, entertaining and yet informative way. But, who that person could be-- I just don't know.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at