Editors for Eisendrath

We didn’t intend to write a word about the aldermanic race in the 43rd Ward. We’ve met the incumbent, Edwin Eisendrath, and enjoy his company; his brother John used to write for the Reader and we consider him a friend. On the other hand, the challenger, Mary Baim, has been such a good friend for so long she’s virtually family. The lady helping Baim hand out literature at 8 AM at the Armitage el stop–that was our wife.

Clearly a column on the 43rd Ward wouldn’t be appropriate. On the other hand, the way the Sun-Times treated Mary Baim last week wasn’t appropriate either. So here we are.

Edwin Eisendrath is politically vulnerable for one big reason: after prevailing in an extraordinarily expensive, highly contentious aldermanic election in ’87, he decided midway through his first term to run for Congress against Sidney Yates. The Sun-Times sees no reason why that 1990 debacle should be an issue: “The last we looked,” said its editorial endorsing Eisendrath, “this was still America, a place where you are supposed to be able to run for any office you wish.”

The following may come as news to the editorial board. In America, you do as you wish, but then you take the consequences. In Eisendrath’s case, the consequences were a lot of angry constituents who’d decided he was impetuous and not very serious about being alderman and who were therefore disposed to vote for an alternative. A few of the angriest constituents who didn’t like Eisendrath to begin with got together to find one. The result: another rancorous election gussied up on both sides by the city’s most artful flacks and spin doctors. It’s democracy in action.

The Sun-Times framed Baim as the cat’s paw of “a group of Yates backers who undertook a bent-on-vengeance search for a candidate to topple Eisendrath.” The editorial went on: “Not being able to find a willing candidate from within the ward, they reached two wards north for former resident Mary Baim, whose crucial qualification seems to be her pledge never to challenge Yates. Perhaps that’s not fair. Baim, for all anyone knows, might make a good addition to the City Council. But anyone would have a tough time finding that out if they just listened to the get-Eisendrath campaign crafted by Baim’s handlers.”

Here’s the situation. Eisendrath has a job. Baim wants it. If a “get-Eisendrath campaign” is out, what sort of campaign does the Sun-Times think Baim should run? Maybe she shouldn’t run at all. Maybe Eisendrath is entitled to run for any office he wishes, but Baim isn’t.

Editor Dennis Britton lives in the 43rd Ward so he has seen the fireworks firsthand. And he tells us that far more mail and telephone calls have flooded into his office from the 43rd Ward than from any other ward in Chicago. Britton sits in on every endorsement meeting of the editorial board, and his influence is decisive. But he is new to our city and lacks the long view. Failing to remember ’87, he may think the present race is an aberration for which the Baim camp is chiefly responsible. In time he’ll come to appreciate his cozy neighborhood’s touch of Lebanon. We’re guessing at his thought processes. The editorial, he says, speaks for itself.

No one would say who wrote the Eisendrath endorsement. It may have been Dennis Byrne; a Byrne column two pages away described the race the same way but in even saltier language:

“The most boorish practitioner of the stay-in-your-place school of political thought is the lynching party of “progressives’ that is out to get even with Ald. Edwin Eisendrath (43rd) because he had the nerve last year to run against yonder icon, Rep. Sidney Yates. Appointing itself as some sort of ward protectorate, this lordly group has searched far and wide for someone, anyone, to beat Eisendrath in his re-election bid . . .”

A subject for another day is the way in which, in this era of shrinking news holes, papers sometimes feel the need to say the same thing twice.

The Eisendrath endorsement was the lead editorial in the February 14 Sun-Times, receiving almost twice as much space as four other council endorsements put together. You got the impression that reelecting Eisendrath really mattered to the paper. Finding out what happened a day later made that impression even stronger: a piece Steve Neal had run on the Baim-Eisendrath race was spiked by the editor of the editorial pages, Ray Coffey. Coffey wouldn’t return our phone calls.

We’re not a fan of Neal, who lays on ridicule with a heavy hand and has mocked Eisendrath mercilessly as “Little Lord Eddie.” But this was certainly an odd time to kill his column.

Media for War?

A letter arrived last week from a reader wondering why Hot Type “barely seems to recognize that the U.S. is at war in the Persian Gulf.” Actually, we’ve thought of little but, but it’s true the column hasn’t reflected that.

Our correspondent continued, “I say this because I’ve yet to read anything there relevant to the appalling level of media censorship we are now witnessing. The fact that public debate about the war has been limited to the right wing and the extremely right wing is frightening to me and many others.”

This struck us as heartfelt overstatement. But our correspondent ticked off specifics.

“Where are any stories on April Glaspie’s infamous ‘blunder’ in telling Hussein three days before he invaded Kuwait that the U.S. wouldn’t get involved because it was an intra-Arab conflict? Where are the chiding editorials about the Reagan administration’s arms sales to Iraq throughout the 80s? Especially since they’ve gone after West Germany and France so vigorously for same?

“Where are the articles about our ‘ally’ in Syria, Hafez Assad, who Amnesty International and the State Department claim has an even worse human rights record than Saddam Hussein? . . . Why is the peace movement ubiquitously depicted as teenagers with candles photographed from 20 feet away chanting ‘No blood for oil!’ while the support-the-troops nonposition is rhapsodically reinforced in loving close-up shots of yellow ribbons and waving flags?

“And most importantly, why are there no guest editorials by anyone other than conservative think-tankers and retired generals?”

Our correspondent reminded us of the Reader’s “ability to reach thousands of Chicagoans that otherwise get all of their information about the war from the prowar media.” We were urged “to put some feet to the fire.”

Surely Ambassador Glaspie’s unhappy interview with Hussein is “infamous” because it’s so well-known. Likewise the arms sales to Iraq. Likewise Assad. These matters have been reported in the popular press, although obviously not as emphatically as our correspondent wishes. When George Bush runs for reelection as Winston Churchill, they will come back to haunt him. And if Desert Storm goes poorly they will haunt him all the more.

But for now Desert Storm remains a military operation that seems to be unfolding according to plan. That being so, the war’s still at the point where any daily paper is going to try a lot harder to cover it than to dig up fresh arguments why it’s wrong.

But the letter made us curious. There’s a stack of papers on the floor of our office, and we picked up that day’s Sun-Times to see how it measured up. This was the February 13 issue with the page-one banner: “Iraq peace bid hinted.” Within, we gleaned the following passages:

“The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, did not mean to signal approval for Hussein to invade Kuwait in a meeting with him in late July, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said. An Iraqi transcript not disputed by the State Department says she told Hussein that the United States had no opinion on his border dispute with Kuwait.”

“Kuwait’s government-in-exile ruled out a quick return of the parliament it dissolved in 1986. The ruling al-Sabah family . . . also refused a request from prodemocracy activists for speedy elections in a Kuwait freed from Iraqi control.”

“Leaders of 26 U.S. Protestant and Orthodox churches and 15 U.S. Catholic bishops urged a ceasefire in the gulf war. . . . The denominational leaders called the fighting a ‘great human tragedy of yet unknown proportions.’ The leaders included Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, whose most prominent lay member is President Bush.”

“The Defense Department says blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, Asian-Americans and other minorities . . . make up 35.5 percent of American forces stationed in the gulf . . .”

“The Department of Commerce approved millions of dollars in high-technology exports to an Iraqi research center, although a classified Pentagon report warned on Nov. 6, 1986, that the complex was developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction, according to government sources . . .”

“Two-thousand-pound smart bombs, no matter how ‘smart’ or accurate, harm people near the targets they hit, the Pentagon acknowledges. And the bombs don’t always hit their targets . . .”

And as always–“Correspondents and photographers covering the Persian Gulf crisis are subject to military censorship imposed by U.S. and other authorities . . .”

A typical paper? Actually, no. The Sun-Times of the two previous days didn’t compare, and neither did the Tribune or the New York Times of February 13. But Sun-Times coverage overall has been so skeptical that anyone who calls the paper prowar can’t be reading it.

Recall that a few days before Congress gave President Bush the authorization he needed to begin the bombing, the Sun-Times ran a page-long editorial: “War with Iraq isn’t vital for U.S. future.” And recall Dennis Byrne’s column the day before the war began, “GIs will pay for ‘new world order.'” (Byrne deserves every penny he makes; everything he writes we either admire or abhor.)

And Vernon Jarrett’s piece the day after the war began: “Patriots need not accept this blind march toward tragedy.” And the op-ed page in early January that featured Andrew Greeley (“Who’ll say no to erring Bush”), George Will (“Nunn skeptical–with good reason”), and Carl Rowan (“Bush’s ‘new world order’ a hollow prospect”).

It’s true that none of this has been the kind of sharp leftist analysis of American militarism that our correspondent is looking for. But it isn’t “Yankee Doodle.”