“The freedom I knew at the Chicago Reader is something I suspect I will never recover, mingled as it was with the energy of youth and the excitement of charging headlong into uncharted territory.”

—Dave Kehr, our film critic from 1974 to ’86, looking back in his new anthology of Reader pieces, When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade

It Can’t Happen Here – Well, Maybe Twice

Adlai Stevenson III had almost unseated Governor Jim Thompson in 1982. He lost by a few thousand votes he hoped to make up in the rematch in 1986. But in the March primary, ignorant Democratic voters picked an acolyte of conspiracist Lyndon LaRouche for lieutenant governor and another LaRouchie for secretary of state. Stevenson, who called his new running mates “neo-Nazis,” was toast. The editors of Chicago’s two dailies told the Reader why they hadn’t given readers a heads-up.

Frank Devine, Sun-Times: We really did very dumbly. We didn’t think about it. Really, the duty of a newspaper is to inform to make sensible choices, and we failed.

Jim Squires, Tribune: This was such an aberration. So many unusual circumstances had to come together to make it happen. I’m sure not wearing any hair shirt – I don’t think it’s going to happen again.

And it didn’t—not until Democrats nominated pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen last year to be Pat Quinn’s running mate.

Louis Farrakhan’s Rise to Fame

Khaddafi had a history of friendship with the Nation of Islam. In 1972 he had granted the Honorable Elijah Muhammad a $3 million interest-free loan to build a national mosque. On February 24, 1985, he arranged for a special address to black America to be beamed via satellite into a Chicago meeting hall as the climax to the Nation’s annual “Savior’s Day” convention. The Libyan leader, who has financed terrorist groups around the world, appeared on a large TV screen and called upon American black servicemen to desert from the military and engage in widespread sabotage and rebellion with weapons he would provide.

Arms for insurrection wasn’t exactly what Farrakhan needed at the time. He wanted money to start up his toiletries business . . .

From “Would you buy a toothpaste from this man?” by Edwin Black, April 11

When the Tribune Let the Reader Do the Talking

Chicago needed a new central library, and the Public Library Board had a plan—convert the empty Goldblatt’s store in the South Loop. But the Sun-Times called this idea a “colossal blunder” and a “cultural abyss” while the Tribune said nothing, editor Jim Squires telling the Reader‘s David Jackson, “Things like that are usually done by newspapers that can’t get anyone to take them seriously.”

On August 29 the Reader‘s front page offered a rendering of the renovated Goldblatt’s to illustrate a piece by Florence Hamlish Levinsohn headlined “What’s wrong with this library? Not nearly as much as the Sun-Times‘s hysterical crusade would have you believe.”

Levinsohn didn’t turn the tide: today, thanks to the Sun-Times, we have the Harold Washington Library. But the Tribune‘s reaction to Levinsohn was astonishing. Jackson discussed it in the September 5 Reader:

“When a point-by-point rebuttal of the Sun-Times‘s accusations finally did appear, in last week’s Reader, the Tribune seized the story and reprinted it prominently in their Sunday “Perspective” section. So they did find the Sun-Times‘s charges worth answering after all – if someone else did all the work.”

Today they call that “aggregation.”