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August, 2008:

The beginning of the end? Or just a beginning?

The big news tonight is that Jay Mariotti resigned from the Sun-Times. I’m not the only Chicago sports fan, journalist, curmudgeon, or supporter of good taste that is happy to see him go. But that’s for another day.

Here’s the news. Keep in mind that this is coming from Mariotti, a guy who is loathe to use logic if it doesn’t contradict conventional wisdom. Here’s the write-up in the Tribune:

Just back from Beijing where he wrote about the Summer Olympics, Mariotti said in a phone interview Tuesday night that he decided to quit after it became clear while in China that sports journalism had become “entirely a Web site business. There were not many newspapers there.” He added that most of the journalists covering the Games were “there writing for Web sites.”

Mariotti had just signed an extension that would have saddled Sun-Times readers with three more years of his garbage.  The Sun-Times, which is hemorhaging readers, was going to pay him upwards of six figures a year.  Why leave now?

I’m a competitor and I get the sense this marketplace doesn’t compete.  Everyone is hanging on for dear life at both papers. I think probably the days of high stakes competition in Chicago are over.  To see what’s happened in this business…I don’t want to go down with it.

Astounding. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed the layoffs and high-profile buyouts that have shrunk the size of both the Tribune and Sun-Times newsrooms.  If not, look here, and here, and here, and here, and tell me that the Tribune and Sun-Times will not suffer.  My wife and I (who met at the Sun-Times News Group’s Pioneer Press Lake County bureau) just learned of more people at STNG who have taken buyouts.  I left (somewhat loudly and unceremoniously) when it was beginning. I’ve freelanced with the Herald, and even there the staff is asked to do more with less.

Maybe Mariotti has a point. Few people actually read the hard copy of the paper anymore.  We get the Tribune, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, but we’re oddities. No. I’m the oddity. My wife tolerates the stack of used newspapers before ordering me to get rid of them. (I should have pursued a relationship with a girl I knew at IU who told me that the scent of newsprint “turned her on…”)

People are flocking away from newspapers, so the professionals attempt to reinvent the wheel. Here is what a proposed redesign of the Tribune looks like:

My eyes! My eyes!

Awful. Cancel-my-subscription awful. Looks-like-the-new-Sun-Times awful.

Michael Miner (again) sums it up well:

This front page is pathetic. You know those old guys who let what’s left of their hair grow long and pull it into a ponytail, thinking that’ll make it easier to score? That’s how it’s pathetic.

Blogs are terrific, and the Internet has given rise to countless “publications” for little to no cost.  That’s great. But the bricks-and-mortar newspaper still has a role.

Heft. Gravitas. Significance.

Things are important because it’s in the paper, because space and resources are precious, and because editors and reporters understand fairly well what is relevant, what is unusual, and what is worthy of news.  What do bloggers link to? News sites.

Newspapers also (for the most part) answer to some kind of ethical codes, and most of all, to advertisers and readers.

The Sun-Times and Tribune are going to have to face some hard decisions in order to survive, but the worst might be over.  The Mariottis of the world have no place in a newspaper of the future. Get rid of some of the egos, and let the hard-working reporters take over. Any asshole can have an opinion. You’re here reading mine — and notice you don’t have that much company!

See the resemblance?

I always thought that Michael Scott of The Office reminded me of someone. He does. They’re both from Scranton. In the first season, Michael’s hair was the same.

Who does he remind me of? Guess who:

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Beating Barack at his own game

John McCain is still contemplating his running-mate choice. It appears the short list has already been formed, but let me suggest another name for the sake of conversation.

Peter G. Fitzgerald of Virginia.

Anyone for an end to politics as usual in Illinois? No? Well, I’ll leave now.

Fitzgerald is actually an Illinois native, and for those of you who forgot, he was the man who made Barack Obama possible. Fitzgerald upset GOP establishment candidate Loleta Didrickson (then the state treasurer state comptroller*) in the 1998 primary before taking down the underqualified Carol Moseley Braun in the general election.

He came to Washington after serving six years in the Illinois Senate, where he and four other senators were known as the “Fab Five” as they opposed the methods of Pate Phillip.

Read this tribute Radley Balko wrote on Fitzgerald at the end of 2004:

He’s retiring because his own party has turned on him and promised to run a primary candidate against him. That’s because this particular senator decided that while he was in office he’d be his own man and vote his own conscience. He wouldn’t be a lackey for his party, he wouldn’t vote pork home to his state, and he wouldn’t do what the special interests who run his party told him to do. And that got him into trouble.

Fitzgerald’s crowning achievement in his brief career was his opposition to the federalization of a planned expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (search). Congress’ seal of approval would have ensured that the $13 billion expansion forge ahead, without any input from Illinois residents, including those who owned the hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses that would have been bulldozed to make way for the new runways. …

Fitzgerald next earned the wrath of fellow Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a fellow Republican and probably the most powerful politician in Illinois, if not the country. Fitzgerald and Hastert first tangled over Fitzgerald’s refusal to support Hastert’s efforts to secure a glut of federal funding for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, located in Illinois. Hastert pulled rank to secure the money, and Fitzgerald criticized him publicly for it.

Fitzgerald then refused sign a letter written by the Illinois’ congressional delegation to President Bush, which requested the White House’s help in securing federal dollars (read: pork) for the state. Fitzgerald infuriated his colleagues when he wrote in a reply, “the mere fact that a project is located somewhere in Illinois does not mean that it is inherently meritorious and necessarily worthy of support.”…

Sen. Fitzgerald’s final sin was to nominate someone outside the state of Illinois to serve as U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Illinois, based in Chicago. In a 2002 hit piece on Fitzgerald, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal scolded, “[t]he junior senator doesn’t think that anyone who voted for him is qualified to sit in the U.S. attorney’s chair on South Dearborn Street.”

Contrast Fitzgerald’s record as a representative to his people in Illinois to Obama’s record.  Obama stayed silent on the Claypool-Stroger primary when Obama’s poltical capital in Illinois was unmatched, he endorsed the mental midget Todd Stroger, he endorsed mafia-connected state treasurer Alexei Giannoulias (who was up on the dais last night in Denver, along with a guy who drove off a bridge and left a women in his car alone to drown), and he has aligned himself with some of the seediest elements of Illinois politics including Sen. Emil Jones Jr., who is trying to grease the skids for his son to take his seat.

Fitzgerald stood up to the pork-loving of Denny Hastert, the corruption of George Ryan, and the tolerance for politics as usual of Judy Baar Topinka.  It cost him his political career.

Fitzgerald, a far smarter man than I am, picked up his ball and left Illinois. I can’t blame him.  I wish I could do the same, but Illinois is great in spite of its government.  One day it would be great but for the suffocating, incompetent, corrupt government. Obama didn’t do a damn thing to change the environment in Illinois whether he was in Springfield or in Washington, or “community organizing” on the South Side.

Fitzgerald would be just a final piece of gamesmanship. Picture a relatively young former Senator who got fed up with the Illinois machine and tried to fight it going on the ticket opposite of his successor, a guy who rose to prominence with the backing of Emil Jones, Richard M. Daley, and a guy who scratched some backs in return.

Of course, maybe George O’Leary or Mike Barnicle should be a consideration. Embellishing a resume disqualifies you from coaching Notre Dame and plaigairizing material gets you fired from the Boston Globe, but neither will disqualify you from the Democrats’ VP nomination .

Now McCain will go the safe route and pick Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney, or possibly Rob Portman or Sarah Palin, but a bold pick will do more than a safe one.

UPDATE: Here’s another profile on Peter Fitzgerald’s U.S. Senate tenure by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal.  In it is the prophecy of Thomas Roeser: “He was our greatest senator since Everett Dirksen.  My fear is that he won’t find a business opportunity in Chicago and will move to some other state, where he would be a great treasure.

Indeed. He’s settled in Virginia.

UPDATE: Save The GOP today also listed five “game-changing” veep picks: Colin Powell, John Breaux, Mike Pence, John Ashcroft, and Fitzgerald. I love the Pence and Breaux suggestions.

* UPDATE: Thanks to JD who corrected my error. Loleta Didrickson was the state comptroller. For those interested enough, here’s a decent 1998 New York Times article that ran just before the March primary. It mentioned how the Democrats were openly rooting for Fitzgerald, and then prophetically cautioned them about what they wished for.  I should also mention that Didrickson had a distinguished career in Illinois. However, she ran for Senate only after the constant urging of the “establishment,” as the common wisdom was that a conservative could not win a statewide election. I’m also sure that Fitzgerald’s maverick reputation that he (along with fellow “Fab-Fivers” Steve Rauschenberger, Chris Lauzen, Dave Syverson and Patrick O’Malley) built scared enough Republicans.

A scene

Imagine John McCain promised to text all of his supporters (and even his tepid supporters who acknowledge he’s the least of two evils). Imagine me being asleep at 3 a.m. and my phone beeping. Imagine it rousting me out of bed.

Wife: T.J., your phone is beeping.

Me: Unhhh.. uhhh

Wife: T.J., wake up.

Me: Unhhh, uhh, huh?

Wife: Your phone.

Me: Oh. (Gets out of bed, views text message on phone).

Wife: Who was that?

Me: Oh. Tim Pawlenty.

Wife: Who?

Me: The McCain campaign. They picked Pawlenty.

Wife: Hummmph. Go back to bed.

Republicans are more polite than that.

The biggest concern going into the Bears’ season

No, it’s not Kyle Orton, nor is it the bad offensive line, nor the uninspired preseason play by the defense. The biggest concern I have centers around the drum corps.

Please make them go away.

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