NOW They Want a Recount

Having done what it could to elect George W. Bush, the Chicago Tribune promptly exercised its right to lecture him. The Tribune had seen no reason for a manual recount of disputed ballots in Florida when it was merely Al Gore who wondered what those ballots said; but when the Tribune itself wanted to know, it would brook no resistance.

“No, the counting isn’t over yet,” began a December 22 editorial. “Down in Florida–you remember Florida–several news organizations [the Tribune among them] are sponsoring a comprehensive analysis of the thousands of disputed ballots in the presidential election. The intent is to shed some light on what really happened on Nov. 7. But to hear the bleatings of Republicans close to President-elect George W. Bush, you’d think the intent was to roll back the results of the Electoral College vote and give Al Gore one last gasp at claiming the White House.”


“‘To publish illegal votes as legal votes would be to mislead the readers and the public,’ complained Tucker Eskew, a spokesman for Bush. ‘Anything that undermines Bush’s ability to govern is of my concern,’ fretted Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida.”

Said the Tribune to the bleaters, “Gentlemen, relax.”

But why should they? They were right. If the media’s analysis of those disputed ballots found that more than enough were legibly cast for Gore to elect him, Bush’s victory would become even more tarnished than it already is. Then again, the Tribune had never recognized any taint, always insisting on the legality of Bush’s victory in Florida as if that were the only problem anyone had with it. “The U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision in this case,” the editorial page asserted once again. Apparently the media-sponsored recount would be nothing more than an amusing postscript to the last word uttered by the court’s 5-4 majority.

The Tribune properly joined the media who sought a wholer truth, but its blithe denial that this truth could in any way wound Bush was inane. A couple of days later it published an editorial that laughed off the election. Taking flight from the premise that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency, this exercise imagined Pat Buchanan out of the race instead and his votes going to Bush, giving him an easy Electoral College victory. Or Harry Browne’s Libertarian Party votes going to Bush.

It was the 2000 election as a parlor game.

No game, the 2000 election launched an important debate over electoral laws and procedures, states’ rights, federalism, the Constitution, and the judiciary that the Tribune could have been contributing to by arguing its positions instead of merely pronouncing them. Admirably, the newspaper’s front page got serious on Christmas Eve. Reporting on its own backyard, the Tribune said it “has found the ‘undervote’ in Cook County not only dwarfed the rest of the state but was more than double that of the last two presidential elections.”

This undervote, which the Tribune called a “troubling phenomenon…particularly acute in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods,” didn’t suddenly burst the bonds of invisibility last November. Though never confronted, it’s been known about for years–it most likely gave Jim Thompson his narrow margin of victory over Adlai Stevenson for governor back in 1982. The undervote is not–though some Bush partisans were happy to suggest the opposite in Florida–rough justice for voters too dotty or stupid to deserve a ballot in the first place. But by penalizing inexperienced voters it serves the interests of the Tribune’s Republican Party. The Tribune’s flippant equanimity as it contemplated the Florida results suggested that however “troubling” it deemed the undercount to be, the paper will find other crusades.

Lee Anglin Loses Again

The southeast side is without a doubt the weirdest part of Chicago. Strange stuff can happen anywhere, but down in the Hegewisch-Calumet area it often repeats itself.

Last May I told the story of Lee Anglin, the two-fisted publisher of various wildly partisan neighborhood weeklies along the Illinois-Indiana line. If it was notoriety Anglin wanted, he got plenty of it, not least the notoriety of running everything he touched into the ground.

In April, Anglin made the downtown dailies with his story of being bushwacked outside his Homewood office. The getaway car was traced to the office of former alderman Edward Vrdolyak, a onetime Anglin pal. Anglin, who dove for cover and miraculously escaped injury, claimed his assailant was 66-year-old Joseph Sallas, Vrdolyak’s longtime friend and employee and the godfather of several of his children.

Sallas was duly arrested. Lending credence to Anglin’s tale was Sallas’s personal history. In 1984 he’d been convicted of conspiracy to commit a 1979 murder in Florida that was presumed to be a mob hit. But Anglin’s recent history was also awkward. This was his second trip to the well–in 1996 he’d accused George Grbic, his former partner in the bankrupt Hegewisch News, of bludgeoning him with the blunt end of an ax.

“He got off on my stupidity,” Anglin told me last year. “The night that happened, the detectives asked if I knew who it was. I told them no, I didn’t know. I was going to handle it on my own.”

Grbic was acquitted. He then sued Anglin for defamation and was awarded $15,000, none of which he collected.

The one-day bench trial of Sallas was held just before Christmas. Again Anglin proved his own worst enemy. Sallas’s attorney brought out the fact that, as with Grbic, Anglin had wound up accusing someone he didn’t name when the police arrived. Anglin’s history of bad-check convictions didn’t help his credibility either.

Apparently Anglin took Sallas’s acquittal in stride. “It comes down to, was it the same person who shot at me that day?” he told the Tribune. “That day I believed so. Today the judge said it might not have been, so I’ll go along with him.”

But Anglin’s wasn’t the only past being relived. One August night in 1982, Robert Seltzner, then editor of the old Daily Calumet, was leaving a Highland, Indiana, restaurant when he was jumped by two men and beaten so badly with a baseball bat that he was hospitalized for four days. Like Anglin, Seltzner was a southeast-side newspaper boss who’d fallen out with Vrdolyak.

David Protess described the episode in a 1988 article on the Seltzner-Vrdolyak relationship in the old Chicago Lawyer. “Authorities traced the plate [of the presumed getaway car] to a Chicago car leasing company. It turned out that the car had been leased to one Joseph Sallas…a reputed mob hit man and long-time associate of Edward Vrdolyak.”

According to Seltzner, Vrdolyak might actually have saved his life. Protess quoted Seltzner as saying, “[An FBI] agent told me that a Chicago crime boss had ordered Sallas to kill me. But before carrying out the hit, Sallas went to see Vrdolyak, and Vrdolyak told Sallas, ‘Don’t kill him.'”

Sallas was never charged with that assault. Already under investigation for the 1979 murder in Florida, he was soon convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He got out in 1991.

He’s Their Man–Sort Of

Barbara Amiel’s Christmas present to Chicago was a new tautology. “Conservatism,” she wrote, “is by definition ‘compassionate.’ It has a full understanding and tender spot for the human condition and the ways of our world.”

Amiel’s essay ran in the Sun-Times on Christmas Eve. An editor who must not have read it came up with the subhead “George W. Bush has what it takes to lead effectively, if we choose to let him.” Amiel actually ridiculed Bush for “rebranding” his conservatism as compassionate. Amiel found this “hideous and a concession to your enemies right at the beginning.” She came no closer to praising his leadership abilities than this: “He will probably point north when talking about Mexico and south to Canada. But the evidence is that he is aware of his shortcomings and not only willing but also eager to be surrounded by capable men. I found it very reassuring that in the 36 days of the election impasse, Bush scarcely said a word himself, sending out the highly fluent former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney instead.”

Amiel told us that Bush “might possibly have a borderline case of aphasia…or might even be dyslexic.” If she nonetheless preferred him, it was strictly by comparison. Senator Joseph Lieberman was to her a “pathetic figure…the American Tartuffe, the consummate hypocrite.” And she recalled the night when “an Al Gore offspring told a hushed Democratic convention and millions of television viewers how ‘my dad’ surprised her with hot chocolate late at night when she and her friends camped out in the back garden. (Applause, applause.)”

Amiel continued, “Aghast, one’s first reaction was: She’s telling the truth. He would do that. And he’d do it for the nation as well, and we’d all have to drink the stuff up on penalty of mandatory health education courses. My second thought was that he would probably have done it for Kim Il Sung too.”

If Gore went beyond the pale the night he took hot chocolate out to the kids, you can be sure that nothing he’s done since has met with Amiel’s approval–her “tender spot” notwithstanding. Amiel is “vice president/editorial” of Hollinger International and, of course, the wife of the boss, Conrad Black. She does her bit to contribute to the present ideological climate at the Sun-Times.

News Bites

The Medill School of Journalism has been searching for a new dean to succeed Ken Bode since Bode announced last June that he intended to step down to teach, and the list of candidates was recently narrowed to four finalists.

A frequent guest analyst on Channel 11, Laura Washington is editor and publisher of the Chicago Reporter. Ellis Cose, who broke into journalism as a Sun-Times columnist when he was a teenager, is a contributing editor of Newsweek, the former chairman of the editorial board of the Daily News of New York, and the author of several books. Loren Ghiglione is director of the journalism program at the University of Southern California. And Abe Peck, whose roots are in the alternative journalism of the 60s, is the longtime head of Medill’s magazine program who became associate dean of the school under Bode and ran it during Bode’s frequent absences.

The new dean will be chosen by Northwestern president Henry Bienen and provost Lawrence Dumas. Bienen suffers from the perception that star power weighs heavily in his appointments. When Bode was named dean in 1997 he was host of public television’s Washington Week in Review, and he continued to shuttle between Evanston and Washington until he lost his TV job early in 1999.

Welcome, chronology pedants, to the third millennium. Of course the new year is much more than that. Because we started counting with the year 1 AD, this is also the first year of a new century–though, oddly, it’s the second year of the first decade of that century. Confusion reigns, the reason being, as you’re always eager to remind us, that there was no year zero. Truly that was a major oversight, for which everyone then alive must share responsibility. The fruits of their folly haunt us today.

To mend the rent in our social fabric, I suggest a drastic measure. The year 1 BC must henceforth be counted as the year 0 AD. Historians I have consulted tell me that this will require surprisingly little redating of coins, newspapers, and government documents. The big change will be in our hearts. We simply must think and speak of that year in a new way, reminding ourselves that the events, personalities, and popular songs long identified with the year 1 BC now belong to the year naught instead. Because of the obvious equal-protection issues raised by conflicting standards of millennium counting, the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly want to weigh in.

Studs Terkel on a Soapbox, the latest entry in WTTW’s “Chicago Stories” series, airs next Monday, January 8, at 7:30 and 11:30 PM on Channel 11. Promoted as a journey “across time and inside the mind” of the 88-year-old writer and broadcaster, it also documents a long collaboration between Terkel and the show’s writer-producer, Tom Weinberg. “Here’s a tape that represents 25+ years of video-making,” says the note that Weinberg scribbled me. “Kinda cool.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Mark Weller.