We’re Watching You

John Kass published a column April 22 that made some readers shudder. He’d been having lunch with friends at Gene & Georgetti and “three well-known Chicago toughs walked up to our table.” These were the Duffs–Jack, Jack Sr., and Jim–and they weren’t so well-known before Kass started writing about them in the Tribune. “These toughs boast of having supreme connections with Outfit bosses and throw out the big names around town,” Kass wrote in his column. “And they’re also good friends of Mayor Richard Daley, having received $100 million in city-related cleaning contracts.”

As Kass told the story, Jack Duff brought a message. “I live near you,” he said, squeezing Kass’s hand. “My kids play on your block sometimes, and you know what? I’ve never seen your kids out front.” And still squeezing, “I don’t see anyone outside your house. Ever.”

Was this a threat? Kass took it that way. “People who don’t like what I write complain to me personally all the time,” he wrote. “Sometimes they get angry, even tough guys get angry, but I don’t write about it.

“But don’t mention my children or my home. Ever. I thought that was against the rules.”

The next day I heard from another reporter who writes about cops and robbers. “Such attempts to scare reporters silent need to be taken seriously. It’s hard enough already writing about these guys,” he wrote me. “I don’t know Kass, but I think local reporters should close ranks–though I’m not sure what this means.”

I’m not sure anybody in the press–including me–knows what it means. The only follow-up I noticed was from Kass himself. At the end of his April 24 column he mentioned that Mayor Daley (no fan of Kass) was asked at a press conference about the column and replied, “I won’t talk about that.”

An old-school editor I happened to be talking to days later said, “It’s like a hockey team. Somebody gets in a fight, and everybody comes to help him.” But he hadn’t seen Chicago journalists climbing over the boards.

I asked Kass by E-mail what he made of this. He didn’t want to make anything. “There’s been a lot of support,” he replied. “There’ve been hundreds of e-mails and messages from readers, and most (particularly cops and firefighters and other law enforcement officials) have volunteered to stand outside my house….And the paper has been extremely supportive, from John Madigan on down.” In a later letter he added, “And colleagues were very supportive too, from newspapers and broadcast. So, people do care.”

And some other people need to know it.

Breaking Up the Team

Among the natives, Bill Adee and his wife Joyce Winnecke held the two biggest jobs at the Sun-Times. Adee ran the sports department, the straw that stirs the drink. It was the job he’d dreamed of growing up in Waukegan. Winnecke, raised in Evansville, Indiana, was managing editor. The brass above were the legates Hollinger International sent in from London and Vancouver.

Early Thursday evening Adee and Winnecke asked to have a word with editor in chief Michael Cooke and vice president of editorial John Cruickshank. “It was excruciating,” Winnecke would later tell me, remembering the moment in Cruickshank’s office when she and Adee told their astonished bosses they were defecting to the Tribune.

“Right up until the last second I was working on the edition,” says Adee. He’d worked out his deal early in the week, but Thursday came and his wife hadn’t wrapped up hers. The Tribune’s managing editor, James O’Shea, had met her in Boston Blackie’s late one night a week or so earlier and passed her his offer, but the next morning he’d left for Iran. Finally he was back, and they were going to go over it by phone; yet Adee couldn’t be certain they’d be able to nail everything down.

“Joyce finally came into my office and said, ‘OK, I think we’re ready to do this.'” And so they told Cruickshank and Cooke they’d decided to become smaller fish in a bigger pond. Adee was taking the number two job in sports and Winnecke was filling the position of associate managing editor for national news, two flow-chart layers below O’Shea. They would start June 3, and they were giving two weeks’ notice.

Just as they’d assumed, Cooke and Cruickshank told them to leave the paper at once. That’s the time-honored policy at the Sun-Times; when you join the enemy you clear out. They went to Winnecke’s office and called publisher David Radler in Vancouver. “That’s what we dreaded most doing,” says Adee, “because we felt on a personal level he’d done so much for us. At our wedding he took an interest in us beyond what any owner or publisher could be expected to have.”

There were cell phones, building passes, and keys to turn in. Winnecke dug out her budget papers and gave them to Cooke. Then they were gone without saying good-bye to their staffs, both sure they’d never see the place again. “They came in and told us at five to five,” Cooke told me, “and at 5:15 they were out of the building.”

I mentioned to him that Adee, anticipating the day, had weeks before quietly begun cleaning out his office, taking personal things home. “It’s like the way you dispose of the soil when you’re digging out of prison, isn’t it?” Cooke replied. “Scattering it in the prison yard.”

Cooke told the paper’s staff by E-mail. “We have difficult news. Joyce and Bill have resigned. They have gone to the Tribune. Many of you have known them both for much longer than us, so you know they will both be missed. On a personal level, we wish them good luck.” Then the two editors met Adee and Winnecke for drinks at the Wrigley Building’s 410 Club.

A gallant gesture, I said to Cooke the next day.

“I’d like to be called gallant,” he replied. “Put me down as gallant.”

You’re angry?

“Not at all. You can’t be angry at people for taking opportunities, or what are perceived to be opportunities. That’s life in the big leagues.”

For years there’s been a steady trickle of Sun-Times editorial talent to the Tribune, at times more of a rush. I asked Cooke why.

“Isn’t it like a force of nature?” he said. “They know where to come and look for good people.”

And why do they leave?

“I suppose,” he said, “they offer them more money.”

He refused to sound like a man reeling. “The Sun-Times in its recent history has endured much bigger blows,” he said. “I don’t know where the panic button is in this building. I’m sitting here looking out at this beautiful river. Monday-Saturday circulation is up. The sports section is the strongest it’s ever been. Life goes on.”

“I’m pretty good at keeping secrets,” Adee says. He’d kept this one for a month after he and his wife were certain they were going. “There was a middle point where we decided we’d let the idea swirl in our heads. And there was a day when maybe things hadn’t gone so swell at the paper, and we had an epiphany. In the here and now, the Sun-Times was a perfect situation. But in what we called our 20-year plan, the Tribune was the place to be.” He can’t remember just what bugged him that day, but the Sun-Times is lean and mean, and chances are it had to do with scarcity. Anyway, “I couldn’t see myself dealing with it ten years from now.”

Winnecke held the loftier title, but Adee’s the one the Tribune really needed. Tribune sports has been a shambles, with columnists Bernie Lincicome, Skip Bayless, and Michael Holley quitting one after another and with editor John Cherwa telling Chicago magazine’s Steve Rhodes last September, “I wish that my reporters had the fire in their belly that a lot of the Sun-Times reporters do. Without them, my reporters, God love them, would be even more lethargic than they are now.” That hapless candor cost Cherwa his job.

Deputy managing editor George de Lama promoted Dan McGrath to Cherwa’s desk and looked around for someone new to become the sports section’s daily hands-on guy, someone who could light fires in sagging bellies. De Lama suggested Adee to O’Shea and editor Ann Marie Lipinski, and it turned out they’d already been talking about him.

“A great sports editor,” says Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport. “Heart and soul of the department…the hardest work-ing man in show business…oil on troubled waters…a very good people guy…making them want to go the extra mile.”

“Blood and guts of the department,” says columnist Jay Mariotti. “Worked 18-hour days…a good columnist editor….He would let you be.”

“A force of nature,” says a reporter who isn’t sure he even likes Adee, not hav-ing been invited to the wedding in 1999.

“I always wondered,” Adee says, “what do you do after you have your dream job?” He couldn’t imagine retiring at 65 from the same job he’d been given in 1993 when he was 29 years old, even though it was the only job he’d ever wanted. The Tribune’s resources had al-ways awed and exasperated him. Now they beckoned. What he discovered, when de Lama and McGrath started chatting him up, was that the Sun-Times’s fierce rivalry with the Tribune was something of a one-way street. “They have loftier ambitions of competing against the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.”

Those ambitions appealed to Adee, but they’re part of the problem. Sports isn’t lofty, and it’s local. “There’s a prototypical Chicago sports fan out there,” says Mariotti, “and I know who he is. He rips open the paper every day, and he loves you or he hates you, but he needs to feel from his paper the same passion he has. As a newspaper reader I’ve never felt the Tribune sports page was anything but kind of cold. Will they let Bill Adee be Bill Adee or make him be the Tribune? People get swallowed up over there. Can he cover the Cubs over there? He’s going to the [Wrigley Field] windscreen paper. He loved it when we were writing about the windscreens. I hope they don’t force him to change.”

Worried about all the bureaucracy? I ask Adee.

“Bureaucracy’s not the word we use,” he explains. “It’s ‘collegial.'”

Picking off the Sun-Times’s managing editor was icing on the Tribune’s cake. Winnecke’s more private about her motivations than her husband, but some Sun-Times people say she had more reason to jump than he did. She joined the Sun-Times in 1994 as deputy metro editor, and when Nigel Wade came in from London a year later she rose

rapidly to managing editor. But under Cooke and Cruickshank she had less to do. She handled the budget, but they made most of the big editorial decisions.

When Jim O’Shea met Adee at a party months ago, someone on his staff told him, you should hire this guy. Sometime later he got to know Winnecke a little when he ran into her at Riccardo’s (or whatever Riccardo’s is called these days). When she mentioned once having been posted in Washington as a national correspondent for Scripps Howard, he squirreled that nut away. A Tribune reorganization separating national from foreign news had opened up the new job of national editor. The obvious in-house candidates were too busy doing important things, so he decided to go after Winnecke.

“I talked to Joyce totally independently of our discussions with Bill,” O’Shea says. “If she’d said, ‘I’m coming, Bill isn’t,’ that would be fine. We were talking three or four months altogether. I’m surprised we were able to keep it quiet as long as we did.”

When he got back from Iran he discovered that word was finally leaking out at the Tribune, though oddly enough about Winnecke only. Some of her Sun-Times coworkers thought she seemed distracted. No one had a clue about Adee. “I always seem distracted,” he explains.

In Adee’s mind it was both or nothing. “I couldn’t picture, you know, getting all jacked up about kicking the Sun-Times’s butt on a story when she’s still in charge of the Sun-Times,” he says. “We’d have had to get separate phone lines, sleep in separate bedrooms in case I talked in my sleep.”

Is there a lesson the Sun-Times urgently needs to learn about how to hang on to its people? “It’s a little bit the way of the world,” Winnecke says. “The Sun-Times has cherry picked for years from places like the Daily Herald. I’ve hired some very excellent journalists from there and left their newsroom reeling. And they have always gone forward with vigor and great success. As I know the Sun-Times will.”

“I’ve hired quite a few people from the Sun-Times,” O’Shea says. “I’m sure it’s got to be frustrating for them. But I wouldn’t be able to hire them if they were investing the kind of resources in their paper that they should be. And that’s not the editors’ fault. It’s the publisher. And the owner.”

Defender in for a Shock?

The Chicago Defender failed another test last week. On Thursday the Sun-Times and Tribune carried the news that five years after the old owner, John Sengstacke, died, a deal finally had been cut to provide for the Defender’s future. The Defender didn’t get around to covering the story until Friday.

If the Internal Revenue Service, which is owed about $4 million in estate taxes that it wouldn’t fully recover for another five years, signs off on the deal, Sengstacke Enterprises–which is the historic but woebegone Defender plus weekly papers in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Memphis–will be taken over in July by Real Times Inc. of Chicago. Real Times is run by Tom Picou, whose aunt Myrtle was married to John Sengstacke. That makes Picou family, which means that Myiti Sengstacke, 30, can tell herself if she wishes that she’s kept her deathbed promise to her grandfather to keep the Defender in it.

But she doesn’t so wish. “It’s not exactly what we were striving for,” she says. She respects Picou, but her desire, and she believes her grandfather’s, was for control of the Defender to pass to her and the five other grandchildren. She’ll make money she says she doesn’t want, but she’ll be giving up her stock. Even so, she intends to work at the Defender. “No matter what happens,” she says, “we–meaning John Sengstacke’s grandchildren–will still carry the vision of where this company goes.”

But for the moment it’s Picou’s vision that counts. He’s offered $8.5 million over time for the Sengstacke papers and promised to invest another $1.5 million improving them. A former Defender editor and president of Sengstacke Enterprises, he left the company in 1984 because he couldn’t get along with his uncle but later returned as a consultant overseeing the three papers outside Chicago.

How long after you take over the Defender will we see a difference in it? I ask him.

“Probably 30 days,” he says. “You won’t even know it it’ll be such a shock. I’ve already got prototypes done. My philosophy has always been impact. The paper has got to have the kind of impact that shocks people into buying it.”

An earlier bidder whose financing collapsed was Kurt Cherry, a Chicago investment banker. He’s resurfaced as Picou’s chief financial officer. It’s another complication in the Defender saga, because Myiti Sengstacke disliked him intensely from their first meeting years ago. Her father, Robert Sengstacke, who owns 10 percent of Sengstacke Enterprises and thinks of Picou as a brother, shares his daughter’s sentiment but is philosophical about it. “Tom certainly knows the feelings of the family about Kurt Cherry,” he says. “But my father told me once a long time ago, he said, ‘Bob, business is not about personalities. You might hate a person’s guts, but if he comes in every day and does a day’s work that’s all you want.'”

Robert Sengstacke, who’s often been at odds with his daughter over the future of Sengstacke Enterprises, harbors far more complex feelings about John Sengstacke, and he’s frequently shown a meditative side during the Defender’s years in limbo. He reflects that although Picou is merely a nephew of John Sengstacke, not a direct descendant or even related by blood, John Sengstacke himself was the nephew of the Defender’s founder, Robert Abbott. “It was a matter of my father being the most qualified family member,” Robert Sengstacke says. “My father always said he never wanted to get into the newspaper business, and my regret is that I never asked him what he wanted to do. My guess is he wanted to get into filmmaking.”

News Bites

The sports staff of the Sun-Times has a pretty strong idea about who should succeed Bill Adee as editor. In the spirit of not fixing what isn’t broken, they want the job to go to Adee’s deputy, Stu Courtney. The Tribune’s Dan McGrath, who tried to hire Courtney away a couple of years ago, calls him “a good guy and a real good slot man.” Jay Mariotti says, “These guys have been together eight or nine years. Stu is Bill.”

What about those screens in Wrigley Field? As Adee and Winnecke brooded about defecting, the story came along to haunt them. “I had to be very careful to remain on the Sun-Times team,” Winnecke says. “That included my suggesting page-one refers about the Wrigley Field stuff, which has been kind of a riot from the Sun-Times perspective.”

“Covering the Wrigley Field screens was sort of funny as a backdrop to the talks that were going on,” Adee muses. He was jarred by Roger Ebert’s essay, which faulted the Tribune for failing to produce anyone who objected to the screens and which argued that when Mike Royko joined the Tribune in 1984 he silenced himself as a critic of the Tribune Company’s follies in running the Cubs. “It was almost as though Roger was talking to us about crossing the street,” says Adee. “It cut to the chase.”

What about those screens now? I ask.

“I actually had a change of opinion Thursday at about five,” says Winnecke.

“They’re the most beautiful things since the ivy,” says Adee.

On March 15 I ran a short item about false packaging. The Daily Herald had put the byline of one of its own reporters on an Associated Press story about changing suburban demographic patterns. My item caused the Herald reporter, Teresa Mask, some modest grief, and a couple of senior editors have called on her behalf. They explained that Mask was assigned to revise the AP story so it focused on the Chicago region, and that’s what she turned in. But then an editor decided he liked the AP lead better than hers. When he slapped it on her story he should have taken her byline off, simply mentioning her at the end of the story as a contributor. He forgot. So there was no plagiarism or intentional misrepresentation.

To celebrate Mad’s 50th anniversary, ibooks of New York City has issued new facsimile editions of the magazine’s first five paperback collections. These fine books return us to that essential period when every word of Mad was written by Harvey Kurtzman and every line drawn by the hallowed trinity of Wallace Wood, Bill Elder, and Jack Davis. This is a major publishing event.

Why you should always read more than one paper.

“Study: Kids OK under welfare law,” Tribune headline, April 16.

“Study Says Welfare Switch Slighted Young,” New York Times headline, same day.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.