Frank Devine—Shameless and Proud of It

Nobody doesn’t like Frank Devine. Even when he stripped a number of reporters of their columns last week they loved him.

The columnists were invited to lunch at Club 71 in the Executive House. The writers, who knew what was up, were impressed by his graciousness and dubbed it the “death with dignity lunch.” Devine explained: “They’re very valued top reporters, not people that you screw with.” He took the columns away because he doesn’t believe in beat reporters writing columns. “I think it ends up with dreg items that wouldn’t make the appear just being thrown into a disposal bin.”

The 53-year-old Devine, a New Zealander, had been an editor at Reader’s Digest for a dozen years before becoming the editor of the Sun-Times last month. I’ve known Rupert Murdoch for about 15 years. We’ve had an affable social relationship. And he said—it must have been last August—’Could I possibly tempt you into editing a major American daily newspaper? And I was somewhat taken aback but I said let me think about it. And the more I thought about it I kept asking myself, ‘Why not?’

“I’d become quite rusty in the practice of daily journalism, so it was a reckless middle-aged adventure. And the more I thought about it as a reckless middle-aged adventure the more attracted I was to the idea.”

Devine thinks the Sun-Times probably will end up looking like the Sun-Times of the 1960s, and in fact the paper already does look like the Sun-Times of a few years ago.

“Without going to screaming, wretched tabloid excess, I have been aiming to make the headlines bigger and bolder, the writing shaper and livelier, and generally to make the paper sprightlier.”

But wasn’t it wretched excess to have a big headline in lat Monday’s paper that said, “Khadafy to black GIs: Quit, form own army”? Devine said: “Khadafy on closed-circuit television in Chicago to an audience of 13,000—that was a big event. I make absolutely no apologies for that.”

For all you people out there who think that the Sun-Times has become a raucous, sensational tabloid since Rupert Murdoch bought it, the affable Frank Devine’s got a message: Remember that picture of the congressman’s wife with her rump in the air? “I did that very deliberately, to be unexpected, and also to declare the end of the coward’s crouch that the Sun-Times has been in for the past year, not only to the people outside but to the people in here who were saying, ‘Oh, God, what will people say about us?’ There’s been a terrible note of blandness, an apologeticness about the Sun-Times for crimes that it had not committed. The congressman’s wife’s bottom I was aiming right in the face of the critics. In a nutshell, boldness and lack of any shame or apologeticness is going to be the nature of the Sun-Times in ’85.

“And our opponents, the message to them is … ” and he held up the middle finger of his right hand, with a smile.

Almost Naming Names

Nearly 14 years after the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers the Times still refers to Daniel Ellsberg as the man who claims to have given the papers to the Times. Nearly 13 years after Watergate, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein still refuse to identify Deep Throat. Reporters all over the country have gone to jail to avoid revealing the identity of their sources.

Well, the Tribune didn’t exactly name names in describing how it got Skip Burell’s secret tape of Mayor Washington, but reporters around town are nearly unanimous in the opinion that Trib editor Jim Squires went too far in fingering the “Vrdolyak camp” as the source. “It was a bizarre action,” said a veteran Sun-Times editor. “Would the source have given the Tribune the tape had he known what was going to happen? I doubt it.”

“Squires is crazy,” said a Tribune reporter working on the tape story. “Every politician I talk to wants to know if he’s going to be named in the Tribune. If Squires asks me who my source are, I’m not going to tell him.”

Remember, we’re talking about the same Jim Squires who just last month raised eyebrows when he said during a panel discussion at the Chicago Press Club that the Trib allows unnamed sources for its INC. column to deny in the column that they were sources. The two cases have their differences, but the principle remains the same; you protect the sources to keep the flow of information open. “Vrdolyak camp” may not be precise, but it’s more than enough to make valuable news sources clam up.

The embattled Squires has his own interpretation of events. He compared the tape leak with Henry Kissinger’s manipulation of the press with blind leaks. “There’s been a change over the past decade or 15 years in the way that newspapers regard their responsibility to their readers. The first time I saw this was back when Kissinger would leak to those of us on his airplane. He was using us for his own ends to send a message.

Since then not only the Tribune but editors all over the country have decided that, if we use an anonymous source who has an ax to grind, we best serve our readers by telling our readers the motivation behind the leak.” He noted that this was the way that some leaked stories were handled during the last mayoral election two years ago.

Only one other journalist could be found who agreed with Squires and that was Frank Devine, who said he’d do the same thing.

Squires said he’ll “fight like hell” up to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the identity of the individual who gave the Tribune the tape. Really, however, he seems to mean only that when the paper finally does name names they won’t come from him, or Mike Sneed, to whom the tape was delivered. Already, Squires says that several reporters have discovered on their own where the tape comes from (though presumably they can’t yet prove what they’ve found). In another twist, the paper has two reporters, Jon Kass and Mark Eissman, tracing the tape before it got to the Tribune. A source close to the mayor believes that Squires wants to short-circuit any subpoena attempts by uncovering and printing the route the tape took from Skip Burrell to the Tribune‘s Sneed.

“Why are they going around asking everyone where the tape came from?” asked an exasperated Tribune reporter. “Why don’t they just go down the hall and ask Squires?”

After-Theater Headlines

Sure, everybody knows that reporters drink and divorce a lot, but Gera-Lind Kolarik, a Channel Seven assignment editor, has written a sensitive play that is the only piece of literature I am aware of that explores the brutal psychic costs that sometimes accompany a lifetime in the news business. Her play, Shattered Dreams, is subtitled A One-act Play of Christmas in the Newsroom, and was presented last weekend at Rosary College, Kolarik’s alma mater.

Some old-timers in the audience thought the principal characters reminded them of George Bliss, the Tribune‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who killed himself a few years ago, and Patricia Leeds, another Tribune reporter who died recently of cancer.

Sun-Times when the paper was merged with the Daily News. “When I went home from work I forgot all about the murders and the bodies,” said Spirko, who covered John Dillinger’s death and the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. The play made him feel nostalgic and he recalled on of his first big stories as a police reporter for the City News Bureau, where Kolarik broke in more than 40 years later.

“It was on November 21, 1933, in the 3400 block of Monroe Street. Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynekoop, she was from a whole family of prominent doctors, killed her daughter-in-law and the body was found in an operating table in the basement. She shot her with a .32-caliber nickel-plated revolver and made it look like robbers did it. The coppers grilled her all night in the house. Finally about four o’clock in the morning we noticed that the paper wrapper from the money the robber was supposed to have taken was carefully placed on a spindle in Dr. Wynekoop’s desk.

“I called Tom Duffy over and showed him. He was acting captain then but he later became a captain in the First District. I said why wouldn’t the robber have thrown the wrapper on the floor? Duffy said, ‘What should we do, Walter?’ I said book her and they took her in.”

The victim was 23 but the Tribune bannered the story: “GIRL WIFE SLAIN; A MYSTERY.”