Friday, May 22, 2009

Chicago's Primary Public TV Station: WTTW, LIberals Talking to Liberals

--WTTW: used to be Wilmette talking to Winnetka

It wasn’t too long ago that some racial minorities tended to criticize Chicago’s primary public TV station, WTTW, as being too insulated from urban issues and perhaps a little “too white,” or suburban with their statement that the station’s call letters stood for “Wilmette talking to Winnetka.” Well, as they say, WTTW has “come a long way, baby.” Now, it’s bias seems to be more one of left-right. The station seems to be unaware of its lack of ideological balance in panelists or moderators, or perhaps it just doesn’t give a damn. It seems to be perfectly content to skew most discussions to the left, as does its relative, PBS.

--The 2010 U. S. Senate Race, Chris Kennedy enters the fray

On Wednesday night, WTTW’s host, Elizabeth Brackett, led a discussion on Chicago Tonight of the 2010 U. S. Senate race. The initial focus was on the emergence of Chris Kennedy, son of the assassinated New York Senator, Robert Kennedy, as a likely candidate in that race’s Democratic Primary. Chris Kennedy, a long time resident of Kenilworth on the North Shore, has also been a civic leader downtown who ran Chicago’s Merchandise Mart but has not run for public office before and has not seemed to have had much of a political profile. He was briefly mentioned for the 10th CD in 2000, when that seat was open, but he did not seek the nomination, alluding to his young kids as perhaps a reason for not running.

--WTTW’s panel on Wednesday night: Washington, Warren and Green

Although Chris Kennedy was the lead of the story, the fifteen-minute segment touched on the 2010 Democratic Party Senate Primary, at large, with a reference or two to the Republicans, and their likely candidate, Cong. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Highland Park, 10th CD). The panel consisted of (a) the Sun-Times and DePaul’s Laura Washington, who is generally viewed as fairly left on the political spectrum, (b) Jim Warren, now of Atlantic Monthly and MSNBC, who is also known to be fairly left in political orientation and (c) Paul Green, Roosevelt University Professor and WGN Radio political pundit.

Although Green likes to think of himself as the “white line down the middle of the road,” he seems to drift left of the centerline, and nobody is likely to confuse him with a Reagan or Bush supporter. [Green is also one of the top five performers in the last two years in terms of online watches (1285) of his appearance on “Public Affairs, watch Paul Green here]. Moderator Brackett, herself, appears to be comfortably left in orientation.

--WTTW: Liberals talking to Liberals

In other words, you had a typical WTTW panel, liberals talking to liberals. The panel pretty much concluded that the Senate seat’s current occupant, Roland Burris, who got there via an appointment by the now indicted and impeached Rod Blagojevich, is a pretty weak candidate, but one who may seek to keep the office. The panel, as a whole, viewed Chris Kennedy as very likely a strong candidate, with the ability to raise lots of money. Kennedy is also strengthened by the fact that he is working with David Axelrod’s old media firm, a firm that helped Obama get to the Senate and then to the White House, not to mention many other political winners across the country, e.g., Gov. Eliot Spitzer, before his fall from grace.

--Alexi Giannoulias

Warren noted that the Kennedys “have not traveled well of late,” and that Chris Kennedy is far from a sure thing. Warren also noted that Giannoulias, as a former banker, might face tough scrutiny. Yes, he might. But, perhaps Warren was unaware that Alexi Giannoulias’ banking history faced quite a bit of scrutiny from Speaker Mike Madigan when Alexi took on the Speaker’s candidate in the Democratic Primary for State Treasurer in 2006, and to some extent by the media in general (and Crain’s Chicago Business, in particular) during that primary and general election. Of course, the stakes will be higher in the U. S. Senate race and Giannoulias might face an even more intense scrubbing from the media. Perhaps that was Warren’s point.

--Cong. Schakowsky

Cong. Jan Schakowsky’s consideration of the race was also discussed. Laura Washington noted that Cong. Schakowsky, as a close confidant of Speaker Pelosi and a powerful member of the House, would have a lot to lose if she ran and did not win the Senate Primary. Although not noted by the panel, Cong. Schakowsky also has many good friends in the White House, including the President himself [for whom she worked tirelessly to elect, going back to his 2004 Democratic Senate Primary], making her decision to give up her House seat even more devastating if she does not win the Senate Primary.

--Senator Burris

Paul Green noted that if State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Cong. Schakowsky (D- 9th CD, Evanston) and Chris Kennedy all were to run in the primary, Senator Roland Burris just might have a shot at winning that primary. Laura Washington commented that many blacks were not too happy with Senator Burris, implying that Burris might not get a unified black turnout in a primary, at least based on where things stand now. Jim Warren noted that the Burris weakness has the African-American community thinking about other black candidates, e.g., Cheryl Jackson, now heading up the Urban League in Chicago.

--Warren: No Republican will win the 2010 Senate race

Most of the above analysis is pretty much the conventional wisdom and wouldn’t vary too much even if WTTW had brought in one “balanced,” or even a conservative leaning journalist. However, that is not true with all of the statements that were made. For example, Jim Warren said, “…Obama will take a pass on the Primary but he will come in, particularly if there is an even vague hint that a Republican, Kirk or anyone else, is making inroads [but] I don’t think that is likely because [Illinois] has gone so blue. I think you have to have about a complete imbecile on the Democratic side to lose this…”

-- Warren goes unchallenged by the panel

Certainly much of the polling data that has surfaced indicate that Cong. Mark Kirk is competitive with the various Democratic candidates, from Burris to Schakowsky to Kennedy to Giannoulias. And, I don’t think anyone would characterize those Dems as “complete imbeciles.” Moreover, Speaker Mike Madigan and the other Democrats who control Illinois politics didn’t seem any too anxious to have a special election in 2009 to replace Obama. Presumably, that was because the Democrats realize they just might lose a special election to the Republicans. Yet, Warren’s statement went unchallenged by the panel or the moderator. If you had a balanced moderator or one balanced or conservative leaning panelist, that would not have been true.

--Paul Green and Jim Warren on Social Conservatives

Then you had this little colloquy between Green, Brackett and Warren:

Paul Green: You can get somebody who was extremely (You know I won’t mention any names) … conservative who can beat [Paul] Vallas [for the Republican nomination] for Cook County Board President, who can beat [Mark] Kirk statewide. It is not a done deal.

Brackett: In a primary?

Green: Absolutely in a primary. It is going to be such a small electorate. And the social conservatives, or as they like to call themselves, the base, they may very easily come out and unless the Republican Party shows incredible wisdom, which has not been shown in Illinois for a while, they could have the candidates who can best win the General lose in the Primary.

Jim Warren: maybe they could go out to O’Hare and bring back Alan Keyes, go back to Maryland or wherever he is and bring him back.
--Challenging Paul Green

My good friend, Paul Green, is forever telling me to name names. Yet, nobody challenges Professor Green when he says, “I won’t mention any names.” Well, I know many, if not most, social conservatives would be very unhappy with Cong. Kirk as the Senate Candidate, and perhaps, as well, with Vallas for Cook County Board President, but I don’t know of candidates who are e stepping up and who would beat them in the Primaries. If Green does, let’s hear the names. And, if this journalist had been on the panel, he would have required Green to put up or shut up. The other liberals on the panel made no such challenge. You see my point. Lack of ideological balance does matter.

--Challenging Jim Warren

And, Warren’s comment about Keyes should have been met with a challenge as to who really caused the Keyes’ mess in 2004. Could it have been the decision of the “moderate State GOP Party Leaders,” to push Jack Ryan over the cliff. Of course, this wasn’t raised because you had a WTTW panel of “liberals talking to liberals.”

Further, nobody reminded Warren that although Illinois is a blue state, it is a state that has been dominated, of late, by Blagojevich’s and the Democratic Party’s culture of corruption. After all, it was Mayor Richard Daley and Speaker Mike Madigan who co-chaired Gov. Blagojevich’s 2006 re-election campaign. And, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, with his tax increase, is the most unpopular pol in Cook County, if not the State of Illinois.

--WTTW, Liberals talking to Liberals

Those facts [the many recent ties of big time Dems to Blagojevich and the extreme unpopularity of Cook County Board President Stroger] might have relevance to any discussion of the 2010 U. S. Senate race in Illinois. Yet, they weren’t raised by the WTTW panel or by the moderator on Wednesday night. This is perhaps because it was Liberals talking to Liberals. Lack of ideological diversity does matter.

Finally, this journalist will say he knows Washington, Green and Brackett and he knows of Warren. Nothing wrong with those folks, their opinions or what they did on Wednesday night. They are fine people. I will attest to that.

The problem is with the person at WTTW responsible for putting together a panel that resulted in, “liberals talking to liberals.” The same problem would exist with a panel of conservatives talking to conservatives. [Of course, the latter problem has never occurred at WTTW]. Ideological balance is important for good TV and for good journalism. Oh yeah, this balanced journalist is always available to help WTTW balance out its panel of liberals-- or conservatives.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at *************************************************************
"Public Affairs," is a weekly political interview show airing in Chicago on CANTV, in the Chicago metro area, Aurora and Rockford on Comcast and also often on the Illinois Channel. You can watch the shows, including archived shows going back to 2005, here.
"Hot" posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page include the fastest five minutes on the web- a New York Times video about Obama-Berkowitz,a show with State Senator and possible Republican candidate for Governor, Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), a show with the's Tom Bevan about Obama's First 100 days and assessing Obama, a show with Senator Steans about budget deficits and education reform, a show with conservative activist Joe Morris about SB600 as a litmus test for reformers, a show with State Senator and likely 2010 10th CD candidate Susan Garrett(D-Lake Forest), and the second fastest five minutes on the web- a segment of Bill O'Reilly with Berkowitz discussing a clip of Obama from 2002 on Blagojevich and many more shows.