Secure at the Trib

Tim Bannon, editor of the Sun-Times’s Sunday Showcase section, told his bosses last Thursday he’d taken a job as a copy editor at the Tribune. He gave them what he thought was two weeks’ notice. No, said his bosses, you’re out of here tomorrow.

“They take the competition between the Sun-Times and Tribune extremely seriously,” Bannon told me on his last day. “I can understand why they wouldn’t want me around. It’s a quick, easy good-bye that may not be necessarily easy for the people who have to scramble to fill in.”

Bannon’s shift is a big gain for the Tribune, a bigger loss for the shorthanded Sun-Times. He quit the Daily Herald to join the Sun-Times in 1987, took over Weekend Plus in ’92 and Showcase last November. And since ’92 he’s written one of the brightest features in the paper, the Monday quiz on page four. He was generally considered one of the Sun-Times’s most talented editors. He says the Tribune’s promised him nothing beyond a job on the features desk; but that paper’s about to launch a new daily arts and entertainment section, and Bannon’s likely to find himself with opportunities.

Are you taking your quiz along? I asked him.

“I assume that’s my property,” he said. “I haven’t really pitched it to the Trib.”

Bannon leaves the Sun-Times with regrets and no hard feelings. But he wasn’t wooed away. He knocked on the Tribune’s door. “I’m looking for new challenges,” he said. “It’s a strong paper, one poised to succeed in a culture that seems to put less emphasis on reading a newspaper.”

In other words, it’s a safer place to work. “I’m not leaving because I’m unhappy here,” Bannon said. “I had a great job. I’m leaving because I have two kids. I have a third about to be born in two weeks, and I’ve become obsessed with long-term security. There’s enough anxiety in my life without worrying where I’m going to be in 15 years.”

Acts of Terror

The newspapers of Friday, April 21, 1995, are curiosities. By then the front pages were beginning to make sense of the bombing two days earlier of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Sketches of John Does I and II stared out from these pages, alongside details of the mounting death toll and FBI manhunt.

But back a few pages were editorials and columns written hours earlier, without the benefit of late-breaking information. With little to go on but their biases, memories of earlier terrorist attacks, and worldly wisdom, the pundits weighed in.

“I find it impossible to believe that free-lancers are solely responsible for the bombings of airliners, military barracks, and, now, civilian-filled buildings in the United States. It’s gone on too long and has happened too often and too effectively. So I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes, airports, military bases, and anything else that is of great value but doesn’t shelter innocent civilians. If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway. Or would in the future.” –Mike Royko, Chicago Tribune.

“As of this writing, we can say that while the bombing might possibly have been the handiwork of other groups (right-wing vigilantes, the Branch Davidians), the indisputable fact is that it has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East–from the blowing up of the American Embassy in Beirut to the destruction of the Marine Corps barracks there. Besides, both Oklahoma City and northern Texas have in recent years become hotbeds of radical Islamic fundamentalism in America, challenging our innocence.” –syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, in the Chicago Tribune.

“Intelligence-gathering is important. But to say that is to see the danger that the Government–and the public, too–will pick out some groups as suspect. That can lead to guilt by association: harassment of people with a Middle East background, say.” –Anthony Lewis, New York Times.

“Police do not know for certain whether the bombing is foreign terrorism or domestic. Either way, the fact remains that whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working. The reason is that the West has never committed itself to the struggle against Mideast terrorism. . . . Mighty Western businessmen beg for the chance to enrich and empower the terrorist regimes of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya.” –A.M. Rosenthal, New York Times.

“The description of ‘three Middle-Eastern type’ men possibly involved in Oklahoma means little. Any assumption that Middle-Eastern turmoil, in any of its forms, has come to America’s Midwest is premature. This horrible act could just as easily be homegrown.” –editorial, San Diego Union-Tribune.

“What kind of political hatred is worth the death of a child? What Jihad or rage at the Great Satan would make someone load a van with the equivalent of 1,000 pounds of dynamite, exquisitely timed to massacre children on a sunny morning? . . . Experts speculate the Oklahoma City car bomb was home-built by Arabic zealots with a beef against the U.S. government. ‘This thing has Middle East written all over it,’ said an FBI source.” –Sandy Grady of the Philadelphia Daily News, in New Orleans’s Times-Picayune.

“Even if the killers prove to be from the Mideast, their crime has no more to do with the vast majority of law-abiding Arab-Americans or Muslims in America than an IRA bombing has to do with their counterparts among Irish-Americans.” –editorial, Boston Globe.

“Ramzi Yousef, the organizer of the World Trade Center bombing, was an expert bomb maker dispatched to the United States from abroad to organize a terrorist strike. He exploited a small group of Arab immigrants whose zealotry was exceeded only by their incompetence. . . . If the Oklahoma bombing follows the same pattern, the foreign sponsors will have covered their trail carefully, leaving only the support cells of local adherents to face the prosecutor.” –Vincent M. Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism operations, in the Boston Globe.

“We expect horrific pictures of babies, maimed and dying from car bombs, out of more exotic datelines like Belfast or Beirut. Not Oklahoma City. . . . But Oklahoma City is America and America is Target One for any and all of the political or religious madmen who populate a world too many of us have too little knowledge about. Somehow we hold the foolish assumption that undeclared wars that thrive in the minds and souls of zealots everywhere will not–could not ever–touch our children or our territory. But why not? Our borders are open and our spine is nonexistent. . . . Look at the pictures of the bleeding children carried from the day-care center Wednesday and think of the two guys being held captive today in Iraq. Listen to the president, the attorney general or the Oklahoma City mayor giving out casualty figures . . . and remember the soldiers slaughtered in a Somalia ambush or the Marines eviscerated in the Beirut barracks.” –Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, in the Anchorage Daily News.

“At the very least, the Oklahoma City bombing–if perpetrated by foreign terrorists–makes foreign policy a hometown issue, no longer the domain of esoteric presidential position papers or diplomacy. It elevates new questions into the 1996 presidential campaign: Should we attack foreign terrorist camps, with or without U.N. sanction? How do we deal with countries suspected of state-sponsored terrorism? In an open society, based on the rights of the individual, to what lengths do we go to spy on and stop suspected terrorists within the United States? Will there be even stronger calls for a clampdown on illegal immigration from the Republican right?” –Chuck Raasch, Detroit News.

“I have lived in cities like Beirut whose once attractive boulevards have been mangled by car bombs, and I have interviewed terror chiefs like Abu Nidal, the Palestinian renegade who has killed for profit and politics on three continents. Out of these experiences comes my sense that terrorism is usually far less complicated than its authors would make it seem. . . . While the public has been obsessed by each small detail of a sensational double-murder case in Los Angeles, relatively little attention has been devoted by the public–or the media–to the World Trade Center bombing trial now going on in New York, in which a clear and present campaign of terror against America as a nation is being sketched.” –Jim Hoagland, Washington Post.

Beirut was repeatedly invoked as this sort of attack’s normal home. It was the frame of reference that allowed many of journalism’s best minds to think about the unthinkable. Some counseled temperance, but more counseled heightened vigilance or action: only certain foreigners kill so ruthlessly. Yet a day later speculation on international terrorism was gone from the papers. Journalism and the rest of America had awakened to a homegrown rage adequate to the carnage.

Black and White Radio

The mail just brought word of a promising development. This Sunday WLIT FM introduces The Race Question, a half-hour examination of racial issues hosted by black adman Lowell Thompson and the Reverend Derek Simons, a Catholic priest.

“I call this series “think radio’ instead of “talk radio,”‘ said Thompson in the press release. “The Race Question will be an alternative to the highly emotional “shoot-from-the-lip’ style of radio program that tends to exaggerate people’s differences rather than point out our great similarities. . . . Since our format will not be a call-in show, we will have time to discuss and explore subjects, not just argue.”

“We will be confronting the hard questions like the origins of racism, the influence of historical figures like Thomas Jefferson on America’s race problems, black and Jewish relations, and many other touchy areas,” said Simons. “But we also want to focus on ways that we can move race relations forward and out of stereotypes and polarization.”

This worthy program will air at 7 AM every other Sunday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Randy Tunnell.