Let’s talk shop. The Sun-Times made a terrible decision slapping Mary Mitchell’s column about Chance the Rapper and his “messy split” with his infant daughter’s mother all over th
e front page last Thursday. Here’s why.
The headline’s the tipoff. “SPAT CHANCE,” it said, across a huge photo of Chance looking a little bit quizzical, a little bit furtive. The biggest story of the day is about some celebrity’s “spat”? Come on, we all know what a “spat” is. It’s fodder for the celebrity rags at supermarket checkout counters, and even in those it’s not cover material. That place of honor’s reserved for breakups and breakdowns and some fading star’s “last chance for happiness.”
The “Spat” cover wasn’t simply lame—it was a bluff. It was the Sun-Times taking the gamble that if you have a flimsy new angle on some big name in the news and you play it up brazenly enough, no one will notice there’s nothing to it. If Mitchell’s fresh information on Chance the Rapper had appeared in a news story on page eight, readers would have wondered what it was doing in the paper at all. Chance—born Chancelor Bennett—”is embroiled in a child-support fight” with the mother of their 18-month-old daughter, Mitchell reported. She culled some details from court documents and then went wading up to her neck in hypotheticals.
“His messy split. . . threatens to overshadow the positive vibes created by his $1 million donation to the Chicago Public Schools,” Mitchell tsk-tsked. “There’s likely to be a lot of interest in this breakup, . . . If this personal issue is handled callously in the public, Chance the Rapper’s clean-cut image could take a big hit.”
Mitchell was warning Chance that if he didn’t mend his ways, someone like her would come along and write a lurid news story about him.
There was an immediate response online. Tiffany Walden wrote for thetribe.com, the “digital media platform” that seeks to “reshape the narrative of Black millennials in Chicago.” Wondered Walden, “So, what’s a big-city newspaper to do when their biggest news generator (the homicide tally) isn’t churning out the online clicks that they need?
Walden pointed out what an uneasy reader would have already noticed: Mitchell’s column was heavy on possibilities and light as a cork on anything actually happening. What’s more, Walden observed that although Mitchell said she “squealed like an avid fan” when Chance won three Grammys in February, she confessed she had never heard any of his music.
So she didn’t bring a lot to the subject at hand. Her column was mostly back story, the back story being that Chance was a big name in the news because he’d just discussed state funding of Chicago Public Schools with Governor Rauner and then contributed $1 million to CPS. “Whenever a Black person rises in popularity while simultaneously galvanizing the youth to rally around fixing systematic inequities,” Walden wrote, “it doesn’t take long for the ‘forces that be’ to try to shut them down.”
Meanwhile, Revolt TV’s Amrit was saying that it doesn’t matter how much good you do in life—”those haters are still going to hate.”
I suspect Mitchell (who didn’t respond to my requests for an interview) was outraged by the suggestion she can be counted among the forces that be (not to mention among the haters), but she’d given Walden reason to suggest it. And others a reason to suggest a conspiracy. “So the governor got salty so he had some of his buddies at @Suntimes try to media shame someone who’s holding him accountable. Got it”—someone tweeted. The Sun-Times has been consistently tough on Rauner, and Mitchell is a strong black voice in the paper; but bumbling journalism can make us forget what came before, and this bumbled.