Italian Beef

Fra Noi, a thick monthly tabloid that bills itself as “Chicagoland’s Italian American Voice,” claims its community’s nose has been bent out of shape by an attempt at humor by sports columnist Steve Rosenbloom in the May 7 Tribune. That day Rosenbloom ran a photo item juxtaposing the mugs of New York mob hit man-turned-snitch Sammy “the Bull” Gravano and new Boston Celtics coach and general manager Rick Pitino. Under Gravano’s portrait ran the caption “Ratted out John Gotti.” Under Pitino’s ran “Sold out Kentucky.” Some might argue the real offense is that it wasn’t funny.

But Fra Noi’s editor Paul Basile says he’s tired of the constant connections made between Italian-Americans and organized crime. In a lengthy tirade published in the July edition, he called the Gravano-Pitino item “a foul against the Italian American community so outrageous that it has few recent parallels in the world of so-called professional journalism.” He quoted Louis Rago, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, saying, “We suggest that the actions of Steve Rosenbloom were easily as insensitive and intolerable as the remarks of Jimmy the Greek,” the former CBS sports commentator who spouted off about black slaves being bred for leg strength and their innate inability to float (he was subsequently axed).

The JCCIA asked the Tribune for an apology and was rebuffed. So it and Fra Noi organized a protest campaign. Fifty Italian-American organizations are now gathering signatures on postcards, which they intend to present to Tribune officials. “I see no reason why we can’t break 10,000,” says Basile, who’s coordinating the drive. He’s also coordinating a press conference and protest rally in front of the Tribune Tower at 10:30 AM on July 22. Nina Albano Vidmer, a Fra Noi freelancer and executive director of the Italian American Political Coalition, is handling travel arrangements and permits for the protest rally. “We have a target of 1,000 people on the street,” Basile says.

“Louis Rago is the general,” Basile goes on. “We’re the field marshals. I’ve been putting in 40 hours a week on this since mid-June and basically squeezing in putting out the paper.”

Ironically Basile’s story quoted JCCIA president emeritus Dominic DiFrisco saying, “I expected more sensitivity and care from a Jewish writer.” But Basile didn’t check his facts. Asked how he knew Rosenbloom was a Jew, Basile said, “I’m assuming based on his name. If I’m wrong I’m embarrassed.” Rosenbloom didn’t return my calls about his religious and cultural affiliations or about his response to the planned protest.

Still, Basile wants the world to know what Rosenbloom has wrought. “I know the pain this kind of thing causes the 70-year-old who owns a barbershop in Carol Stream. When he sees something like this it stabs him in the heart.” o