By Michael Miner
There’s a passel of dubious conduct to put on display this week, but none of the journalism I rounded up got me into much of a lather. The column John Kass published in the Tribune the day before the primaries certainly wasn’t the best he can do. But though the John Schmidt camp is understandably indignant, we can chuckle tolerantly at the scene: a sympathetic reporter poses a preposterous question to a desperate candidate who knows he’ll be screwed however he answers.
“I saw Schmidt on Western Avenue,” Kass wrote. “The bagpipes were playing. The beer was flowing. I asked him if he was proud of his television commercial depicting Poshard as a fascist dictator. I asked him at least six times. He said the commercial was necessary, important and common currency in a tough political fight….But are you proud of it? I asked.
“Never once did he say he was proud of what he’d done. That’s what I was waiting to hear….I figured that if you tried to gut somebody in public, you’d have the guts to stand up for what you did.”
After the exchange at the South Side Irish Parade, Schmidt called his campaign manager, Ken Snyder. “John told me about the interview,” says Snyder. “[Kass] was asking John, ‘Are you proud of the ad? Are you proud of the ad?’ John knew damn well if he’d said yes, the headline would have been ‘John Schmidt is proud of negative campaign.’ You know what Kass said to him? ‘John, you know I made a decision to go with Glenn Poshard. But you’ve really impressed me. You’ve run a phenomenal campaign, and if you win I’m wide open again.’ It’s almost as if he viewed himself as a political boss.”
Snyder continues, “And he told John he thought he was getting a bad rap on his role in mergers and acquisitions. [Poshard pounded Schmidt for lawyering deals that made fat cats richer while working stiffs lost their jobs.] Mergers and acquisitions is not a dirty word. It’s something that happens in business. What is a dirty word is hostile takeover, and John fought them off. He fought off the liquidations. So John’s proud of what he’s done. And even Kass knows that.”
But Schmidt knew Kass hadn’t traveled to Beverly to work up a column on the probity of mergers and acquisitions. “Oh, I talked to Kass,” Schmidt told Snyder later. “He’s going to kill me again tomorrow.”
Which Kass did. He whacked Schmidt coming and going. He said Schmidt couldn’t work a crowd, and he even took a shot at his legal specialty. “He tried to be a regular guy instead of the lawyer who made a fortune from mergers and acquisitions,” Kass wrote the next day. “It didn’t work.”
Kass refuses to comment on his columns after they run, so there’s no way of knowing how he’d grade his performance. But I have no reason to doubt Snyder’s version of Kass’s conversation with Schmidt and no reason to believe it troubled Kass for a second. Was Kass duplicitous? Of course he intended to kill Schmidt again tomorrow, but of course Schmidt knew that–and of course Kass knew Schmidt knew. Kass was offering Schmidt a deal: Come clean about your perfidious ad, and tomorrow might turn out to be another day.
As for the question Kass asked six times about Schmidt’s perfidy, it was nothing at all like “Do you still beat your wife?” It was more along the lines of “Are you proud that you still beat your wife?” And Schmidt could have replied, “I’m as proud of that ad as I know you’re proud of that question.” Journalists don’t respect public figures who can’t come up with sharp ways of telling them to go to hell.
Did Steven Polydoris do something unforgivable? Not so very. Again, it was strictly business.
Polydoris publishes the bimonthly Inland Architect, which was once a journal of great distinction underwritten by architect Harry Weese. But Inland Architect persistently lost money, and in 1994 the distinguished directors of the Inland Architect Press, having failed to find a university to sponsor it, sold the magazine to Polydoris’s Real Estate News Corporation. “You don’t have to be a genius in order to publish a magazine,” he said when he took over.
The distinguished directors–including architects Walter Netsch, Laurence Booth, and former editor Richard Solomon–stayed on a while as advisers, but Polydoris soon ran them off. Inland Architect plummeted in quality, and advertising all but disappeared. It’s of interest these days only because it’s so odd that it still exists.
Last week’s mail brought me an invitation to subscribe. The envelope contained a letter from Polydoris hawking his journal as the “preeminent voice of Midwestern architectural design,” and there was also a glossy, full-color flyer. This flyer guaranteed a “depth of analysis unmatched in American architectural journalism,” and it offered a couple of impressive testimonials.
Walter Netsch: “I love Inland Architect; it doesn’t just report. It is intellectually stimulating and it goes beyond current style.”
Stanley Tigerman: “Inland Architect has a long tradition as an important voice in American architecture.”
I called Netsch and asked him what he thinks of Inland Architect these days.
“Oh my God, don’t ask me!” he said. “I haven’t seen a copy of it. I was removed from the editorial staff. They didn’t want to listen to me. They antagonized a lot of people. They didn’t accomplish what we thought they were going to do, which was take over a very respectable magazine and continue it. It became a real estate tool rather than an architectural tool.”
I described the flyer.
“They got no permission from me,” said Netsch. “Well, I don’t believe in being–where you sue everybody–litigious. But you’re convincing me I’m being mistreated. What can I do? We have had some talk among those of us who were on the board at the end–wouldn’t it be nice to buy it back, the name! We debated whether it’s feasible to do, to actually go through all the struggles.”
Which it isn’t.
“We got older, sorry,” said Netsch. “I’m sorry about Inland Architect. How do I get my name removed? Do I have to call them? I’ll have my wife call them.”
Tigerman was out of town, but I talked to Taber Wayne, his business manager, who talked to him. “Mr. Tigerman doesn’t even read the magazine anymore,” she said. “The subscription was allowed to lapse.”
But had Polydoris done wrong? When I called he was cheery and forthright.
“They knew about that flyer. We inherited that flyer. It was there ten years, eight years–before us,” Polydoris said. “We just picked up the flyer and put our address on it. That flyer’s been sent out by us for at least four or five years.”
But this is the first Netsch or Tigerman knew of it, I told him.
“Well, if that’s what they say, that’s what they say,” he reasoned.
And now that they know, they have a problem with it, I said.
“Then they have a problem with the guys before I got involved with the magazine, because those are the ones who did it.”
Yes, but the guys involved with the magazine before you got involved with the magazine were themselves, I said.
“If they do complain we’ll take their names off the flyer,” Polydoris promised.
About 15 minutes later Taybor Wayne called and complained. Then Wayne called me. “Stanley doesn’t want to belabor the issue,” she said. “They were very accommodating.”
Throughout Polydoris acted like the calm and gallant leader of something only prayer might help.
At Home, In Bed
Suppose you received a press release announcing a new radio show. And it said, “Glink and Countrywide have forged a partnership to bring this program to listeners throughout the country.” Would you describe the relationship between Glink and Countrywide as (a) hostile, (b) wary, or (c) cozy? And if I told you that Glink was a journalist and Countrywide a major player in the industry Glink covered, would you feel (1) delighted, (2) scandalized, or (3) less stirred up than you know you’re supposed to be?
It’s my quiz, and I passed it. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., is “the nation’s largest independent mortgage lender”–to quote the same press release, which the company issued last September–with some 370 offices across the country. Ilyce Glink writes the self-syndicated weekly column “Real Estate Matters,” and now also syndicates a radio show known as The Countrywide Real Estate Minute. She publishes guidebooks on buying and selling homes, and she’s president of the Chicago Headline Club, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“It’s a very common thing in the radio-television world, having the names of companies attached to shows,” Glink told me, in the course of defending The Countrywide Real Estate Minute. “Think about Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I’m not justifying it. I’m telling you it’s happened in other places.”
I asked her about the Countrywide press release that touted the radio show.
“I saw that language before it went out,” Glink said. “When I read it over it didn’t strike me as anything but one of the leading mortgage companies in the country and one of the leading voices in real estate are putting out information. It didn’t strike me that anyone would say you’re in bed with them. It’s not what I’m about.”
The Countrywide press release not only placed Glink and the company in a partnership but assigned Glink a subordinate position in it. “The show is hosted by award-winning author Ilyce Glink,” it said. Not created by, or written by, or the sole responsibility of. Hosted by.
She insisted, “They have no hand in writing the show or producing the show. They do not suggest topics to me. They will happily make people available, but I’ll also put on people from competing mortgage companies. It’s editorially pure. I write it, produce it, and host it.”
Glink said she doesn’t even make any money directly from the Real Estate Minute. The show gets her name out, helps sell her books–that’s why she does it. As for Countrywide, it’s got homes to sell and its own name to get out. One hand washing the other? I wondered.
“I don’t think that way,” Glink said crisply. “You’re asking if I shill. I know in my heart I don’t do that.”
In a perfect world–or, I suppose, a perfect imperfect world–Glink would be sponsored by Amnesty International or Doctors Without Frontiers. Instead, her sponsor’s a company that stands to profit from any blurring of the line between itself and her good name.
Sister Mary Kay Flanigan of Chicago left town Monday to turn herself in at the federal penitentiary in Pekin, Illinois, and begin serving a six-month sentence. (The Reader has a story on Flanigan in this issue.) The Tribune and Sun-Times published very similar pictures of Flanigan hugging a well-wisher good-bye. The Sun-Times photo was a little bigger, and it got better play.
But it occurred to the Tribune that readers might wonder what an elderly nun could have done that would land her in prison. So along with its picture, the Tribune published an article sketchily explaining Flanigan’s act of civil disobedience. The Sun-Times settled for a caption alluding to “her role in a protest at Fort Benning, Ga.”
There’s the performance most likely to bother the thinking citizen. A newspaper that teases the public but doesn’t attempt to inform it has forgotten everything it learned in kindergarten.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): John Schmidt photo by Randy Tunnell.