Tribune Gives In, Accepts Advertising

Not that the Tribune ever bothered to thank him, but Joe Zekas takes credit for boosting the intellectual tone of its Sunday real estate section. Consider the intriguing headline that ran a few weeks ago, “Shanghai looks to past and future: crumbling mansions line the streets.” Zekas modestly suggests he might have had something to do with this.

His role, he tells us, has been to persuade realty clients of his advertising agency to forgo the Tribune’s Sunday classifieds. Instead he’s had them buy zoned display ads, thereby targeting their real estate more precisely and spending dollars more shrewdly–and incidentally, sticking the Tribune with the problem of scrounging up news copy to fill in around the ads. Hence the report from Shanghai. Hence “Investor has plan fit for Queen Mary” and “Russian museums not pretty sight.”

The Tribune is completely ungrateful. It doesn’t even recognize Joe Zekas’s business as an ad agency. And because it doesn’t, last month the Tribune stopped taking ads of any size or shape that Zekas sent over. The newspaper’s big difference with Zekas is philosophical. It doesn’t believe in paying the enemy.

“The Tribune,” Zekas told us, “was basically taking the position an ad agency has to represent their interests instead of the interests of the clients.”

Zekas’s clients’ interests, as Zekas sees them, run to buying display ads instead of classifieds. They also run to buying ads in his own free weekly tabloid, Apartments & Homes. Even though Zekas calls himself an ad man–in fact he’s the major supplier of real estate advertising to the Reader–he allows that 80 percent of the revenues of his company, Data Based Publishing, Inc., comes from Apartments & Homes.

“We removed his recognition as an ad agency,” said Tribune spokesman Jeff Bierig, “because in checking him out his entire business is based on that other publication. He was making money off of us to put in his publication.” So? “His publication would be in competition with our publication,” Bierig explained.

But competition is everywhere. The Tribune’s Saturday home guide was in competition for ad dollars with a Sunday morning “infomercial” Brian Keith Advertising, a big suburban agency, used to produce on WMAQ TV. The Tribune kept doing business with Brian Keith. Joe Zekas owns Apartments & Homes, Bierig reminded us; Brian Keith doesn’t own Channel Five.

After the Tribune decided to bite a hand that fed it, Zekas asked the Tribune’s real estate ad manager, Steven Brooks, to lunch. “To diffuse the paranoia,” Zekas explained to us. “It’s easy to get paranoid about the Tribune. Paranoia in their case usually is just a healthy sense of reality. I think they’re generally a pretty dark outfit.”

We asked Zekas what he was getting at. He said newspapers had been disappearing from his downtown boxes for the last several weeks and three boxes had vanished from Michigan Avenue, including the one in front of the Tribune Tower. “I don’t think it’s tourists taking them home,” said Zekas.

What about his implication that you’re ripping him off? we asked Brooks. “That’s outlandish,” he said. Was paranoia diffused over lunch? we wondered. Not being paranoid in the first place, Brooks replied, it wasn’t for him to say.

“Steve Brooks I believe is an honorable guy,” Zekas reflected after the bread breaking. “He opposes the notion the Tribune had anything to do with [missing papers and boxes]. I’m sure he believes that.”

You don’t? we said.

“I have boxes disappearing. I have newspapers disappearing. I don’t know who has an interest in that happening except one company, and I believe that company is fully capable of that sort of behavior. I have no reason to question Steve Brooks’s integrity. Every dealing I’ve had with him has been straight up.”

To accommodate the Tribune, Zekas has brought a Western Springs ad agency, Taylor-Johnson, into the picture. It now represents Zekas’s clients at the Tribune. Zekas calls this a “substantive change.” Jeff Bierig says the Tribune got a letter explaining that Zekas had become an account exec of Taylor-Johnson, which opened a Chicago branch in Zekas’s office. “We’d have to characterize that as a cosmetic change.”

But one you can live with? we asked.

“We’re accepting the business,” Bierig said.

“If it’s a cosmetic change they can live with, it’s a substantive change as far as I’m concerned,” said Zekas.

Where’s Hillary

The popular media have actually been taking two women seriously at the same time. It’s an impressive juggling act, though in some respects Hillary and Di are one: the spunky wife of a head-of-state-in-waiting/reputed skirt chaser who apparently not only said the wrong things to the wrong lady but was unlucky enough to say them into a tape recorder.

When we first met Di she was a shy 19-year-old virgin swept up by a prince who, it turns out, never loved her. But she learned to play royal politics so skillfully that today the House of Windsor is close to collapse yet polls name the princess the most popular woman in the kingdom. The royal family needs her more than she needs the royal family.

As for Hillary, she’s somehow gone in the space of a year from slighted wife, to family-bashing harridan who had to make a fast identification with home-baked cookies, to someone the pundits speculate could be the next attorney general–while the larger question is whether Bill Clinton (whoever he may have corked on the side) could function in office without her.

The media can speculate to their hearts’ content about Princess Diana and the royal family. They’re Britain’s to figure out. Hillary Clinton is ours, to live with and to understand.

For a time this summer we kept a Hillary Clinton file. Around the time of the Republican convention it seemed half the trees in Quebec were laying down their lives to permit unstinted coverage of her vilification, and we waited for the press to examine her actual ideas.

But examination was left to the Republicans. “Hillary has compared marriage and the family as institutions to slavery and life on an Indian reservation,” declared Pat Buchanan at the Republican convention. GOP chairman Rich Bond warned party leaders just before the convention, “Advising Bill Clinton on every move is that champion of the family, Hillary Clinton, who believes kids should be able to sue their parents rather than helping with the chores, as they were asked to do.”

After the convention the Washington Post, to its great credit, carried a page headlined “Hillary Clinton: In Her Own Words” and crammed with excerpts from the legal articles written back in the 70s that had armed the Republicans. These views may have prodded legal boundaries in their day, but lawyers concerned with children’s rights told us they’re today’s common sense.

“The basic rationale for depriving people of rights in a dependency relationship is that certain individuals are incapable or undeserving of the right to take care of themselves,” Clinton wrote. “Along with the family, past and present examples of such arrangements include marriage, slavery, and the Indian reservation system. The relative powerlessness of children makes them uniquely vulnerable to this rationale.”

She also wrote, “A letter sent out several years ago about the Child and Family Development Act urged persons to oppose the proposed bill because it would, according to the writers, allow children to take parents to court if they were ordered to take out the garbage. Family disagreements that result in legal battles are, of course, of a more serious nature.”

Mike Royko and Bob Greene wrote impassioned columns defending Clinton and denouncing the Republicans who’d been dumping on her, but we waited in vain for a Chicago paper to let her ideas speak for themselves. The odd thing is that two running news stories came along about “family disagreements that result in legal battles”–each an opportunity the press didn’t take to examine Clinton’s views and put them in an immediate context.

The first involved Gregory K., the 12-year-old Florida boy who asked the courts to separate him legally from his natural parents so he could continue to live with his foster parents (boy divorces parents was how the papers played it). The other concerned a 13-year-old Chicago girl in foster care who wanted to return to the home of her natural parents. This desire pitted two lawyers, each claiming to represent her interests, against each other–one a public guardian who believed the girl should stay where she was, the other a private attorney who stepped in to represent the girl’s own wishes.

Hillary Clinton stopped being news when Gennifer Flowers stopped being news. She stopped being news a second time when the Republicans realized she wasn’t this year’s Willie Horton and stopped bashing her. Now she’s news again over the question of whether she’s going to land inside her husband’s government, and how high. She’s news that’s 90 percent gossip. This week’s New Republic carries an actual interview with Hillary Clinton on the subject of children’s rights and family values. The high level of intelligence displayed on both sides of the conversation reminded us again how little real interest the media have shown in the sentient human being who’s married to the next president.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.