So-called basketball player Derrick Rose
  • Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photos
  • So-called basketball player Derrick Rose

Talking back to the morning papers . . .

Eric Zorn is right about the problem, wrong about the solution. In his Wednesday Tribune column he thinks twice about reform, acknowledging that a word he uses all the time is quietly biased in favor of whatever change it alludes to. Reform, Zorn now recognizes, “says our goals are righteous, our cause is just.” A journalist may or may not think that himself about those goals, but he shouldn’t carelessly seem to say so.

What to do about this? Zorn tells us the old Tribune stylebook warily observed that reform “tends to be biased in favor of the so-called reformers,” and continues on his own authority, “Speaking of ‘so-called,’ that adjectival precede knocks the inherent bias off ‘reform’ or ‘reformer,’ as does ‘self-styled’ when referring to the crusaders for policy alterations.”

They do more than knock the bias off. They replace it. So-called and self-styled are just as freighted as reform is. They’re derisive. A so-called reform isn’t a change that may or may not be for the better. In the hands of journalism’s finest, it’s phony.

For instance, here’s Dennis Byrne writing this year: “As the nearly always-fatal AIDS was spreading, so-called progressives ginned up all sorts of anti-science justifications for opposing contact tracing: It would invade privacy; it would stigmatize people.”

And here’s the late Tom Roeser back in 2009: “In all of Chicago’s so-called ‘mainline print media’ . . . which is often called the Old Media (for a good reason) . . . there are only 3-1/2 conservative voices compared to a total of 22 liberal columnists. Does that strike you as diversity?”

As for self-styled, here’s Byrne again: “We discriminate in favor of those who can strengthen our nation, and this is the thorn that so troubles many of the self-styled immigration reformers.”

The Free Dictionary defines so-called firstly as “commonly called” but secondly as “incorrectly or falsely termed: My so-called friends were gossiping about me again.” It defines self-styled firstly as “as claimed by and for yourself often without justification.”

Once a term becomes a snicker, it’s lost as anything else.

And poor Derrick Rose, he’s catching it for thinking out loud about life after basketball. He told Bulls beat reporters, “I think a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out, it’s not because of this year. I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to.”

Who the hell is he? A Sun-Times headline says “Rose has odd reason for choosing to sit out so many games on Bulls’ dime.” That paper’s Joe Cowley lists other Bulls who play maimed and offered that Rose’s concern for life after basketball “isn’t exactly what a blue-collar team playing in a perceived blue-collar city wants, or needs, to hear.”

The Tribune‘s Steve Rosenbloom presents his own list of the Bulls’ walking (and competing) wounded, and asserts, “Derrick Rose has said a lot of dumb things before, but it sounds like he hit 11 on the Stupid-O-Meter on Tuesday.”

In Rosenbloom’s view, Rose’s priorities need to reflect the $95 million contract he enjoys. I guess they do. But maybe we on the spectating end of professional sports need to confess a few things: We don’t care what happens to our heroes after they retire. Right now we want them out there giving 110 percent. If later on they spend 30 years as gimps but saved their money they can afford live-in nurses. Real warriors don’t worry about the day after tomorrow, and neither do their biggest fans. When a football hero sits out a game with a concussion, well, OK, maybe so, but really it’s a pain in the ass.