Chicago’s Worst in Media 2022

January 6, 2023

It was not a good year for the press in the Windy City

The City of Chicago once hosted several dignified platforms for journalism. Decades ago, the reporting of news at Chicago newspapers and radio and television stations could be relied upon to deliver facts and though-provoking commentary.

However, those were days in which reporters scrupulously observed a boundary which separated news and opinion, and journalists considered it a sacred duty to remain entirely objective when reporting events of public interest. Maintaining a pose of exquisite neutrality in news was a requirement for reporters to protect readers, viewers, and journalism. Nonetheless, truthful, factual, and tonally neutral reporting in Chicago are relics of a bygone era and have been replaced with a format in which political conviction dictates the delivery of news.

Today, reporters all across Chicago media platforms believe their audiences are not to be trusted with balanced reportage or commentary because to furnish news impartially is to draw readers and viewers to the “wrong” conclusion. Reporters in Chicago prefer us to be persuaded to their conclusions. In the worldview of Chicago’s media class, if the public had all the relevant facts, we might decide Democrats of all stripes are wholly incompetent, dishonest, and corrupt, and Republicans or conservatism may be a wellspring of uplifting, sensible ideas.

While all consumers of news suffer from confirmation bias — the tendency to believe what it suits us to believe — when the media’s confirmation bias seems to run in one direction only, it means journalism and those it is supposed to serve are in trouble. Chicago, of course, is in desperate straits and has been for years, owing in no small measure to its irresponsible media. Though Contrarian had hoped the imbalance of media bias in Chicago would have improved over the past year, it by any means did not.

Contrarian inaugurated our piece evaluating the worst in Chicago media in 2021. As 2022 closed, contributors to Contrarian submitted a few of the worst examples of Chicago media's coverage of critical stories. Over the past year, Contrarian witnessed not just a perversion of all forms of journalism, but advancement of the political weaponization of journalism, and trained on half of Chicago. In effect, media continued to lose the precious clout it once maintained.

The rot of journalism continued in 2022

As we survey the media landscape in 2022, it is not too surprising we set about our examination of lousy journalism by highlighting WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell, who attempted to sell GoodKids MadCity as objective experts on social matters after Mayor Lori Lightfoot sought to enforce a curfew at Millennium Park. Likewise, A.D. Quig hardly distinguished herself for inquiring about Lightfoot's habit of using the CTA while declining to ask the mayor about four mass shootings in an early November press availability session. Block Club smearing Officer Evan Solano was the online daily behaving in its usual deceitful manner.

Although there are countless examples of appalling reporting, the nadir of journalism in Chicago for the year must begin by evoking a tweet delivered by the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Pratt. One of the Windy City’s most slanted reporters, in response to Mayor Lightfoot’s decree imposing a curfew at Millennium Park following a fatal shooting in May at The Bean, Pratt tweeted:

A thoroughly ignorant tweet, Pratt’s use of “a move that will particularly hurt Black youth” — a colloquialism for the left’s treasured bromide “disproportionally impact” — did not explain with any intelligence or care how the murder of black youth aligned with his tweet. Unsurprisingly, Pratt's ill-advised missive did not have a long shelf life and was ultimately deleted.

Aside from this disgraceful proclamation, Pratt is also recognized for his refusal to cover recent developments in several exoneration cases now being litigated in federal court. In one case, Nevis Coleman, who was accused and later convicted in the brutal slaying of Antwinica Bridgeman, Pratt’s “reporting” was notable not for its clarity but for its sympathetic portrayal of Coleman as a victim of police abuse and coercive tactics.

Though Pratt breathlessly covered Coleman’s journey from “wrongly incarcerated” to free man, later developments in federal court were apparently not worthy of Pratt’s attention. In May, attorneys representing former detectives named in Coleman’s lawsuit claimed in a court filing prosecutors in Kim Foxx’s office remained convinced of Coleman’s guilt. The same filing also asserted detectives involved in the investigation of Bridgeman’s death concluded police had not engaged in misconduct or wielded threats, intimidation, or physical force to obtain Coleman’s confession admitting guilt in Bridgeman’s murder. Though a significant, material development, not one word on the circumstances evolving in federal court have found its way into Pratt’s “reporting.”

Eric Zorn slipped further into irreversible irrelevance in 2022. Other than his Substack publication, the Picayune something or other, Zorn’s only exposure is as a panelist on the Mincing Rascals podcast — a flaccid group-therapy session for whiny progressives — with host John Williams on WGN Radio 720. In an inane and wretched attempt to endure as a serious political presence, Zorn advertises “thousands of paid subscribers” on his Substack page.

Over at Chalkbeat, Mauricio Peña receives a special mention from Contrarian for his persistent coverage of COVID-19 and his rote, hysterical calls for residents to continue to mask up and relent to umpteen booster shots. Medical science did find a vaccine for COVID, but no inoculation for woke stupidity seems to be forthcoming.

Block Club’s resident anti-racism foot soldier Pascal Sabino is recognized for his work, though it did little to add to any meaningful public conversation. A man whose work is steeped with anti-racism ideology, Sabino used his reporting to antagonize, insist racism is afoot near, far, and wide, and insist everyone within Chicago’s tax base should simply put up and shut up.

In May, the Reader reached a new low when its news editor, Jim Daley, announced the hire of Anthony Ehlers. At the time Daley giddily broadcast the addition of Ehlers as a contributor, he tweeted an article Ehlers had written from behind the walls of Stateville Correctional Center lamenting how his desperate effort to untangle the mystery of his inward self was complicated by COVID.

Though Daley did not draw a veil over the fact Ehlers was imprisoned, he did decline to explain why Ehlers was behind bars. Since the good Jim Daley did not care to clarify the crimes committed which led to Ehlers' incarceration, Contrarian conducted a thorough examination of Ehlers’ past. Mr. Ehlers was not merely mischievous, and his entanglement in the criminal justice system is a consequence of his involvement in an atrocious crime. On November 12, 1992, Ehlers, then the tender age of 20, and two accomplices entered a gun shop in Freeport, Illinois, and stole 50 firearms and 15 knives. Unsatisfied with their score, the trio finished business by slitting store owner Robert Peters’ throat and shooting Peters in the head and chest before making their escape.

Perhaps Ehlers’ crimes are lost on Daley, but this hire as a columnist is at minimum shameless. At a maximum it is absolutely despicable. Since Ehlers’ hire, he has composed several essays, all of which moan and wail about the “dehumanizing” conditions in prison. Mr. Ehlers, however, is serving a well-deserved sentence. Instead of offering a platform to a convicted killer to deliver finger wags at the justice system from behind bars, Jim Daley should provide some space to the family of Robert Peters, a victim of Ehlers’ brutality, to describe the pain, injury, and loss Ehlers, a willful predator, inflicted on their lives.

Though the Reader’s sole aim for hiring Ehlers was to portray a pitiless killer as a noble victim, if Mr. Ehlers suffers from the varying mental health issues — a sense of failure, boredom, captivity, or claustrophobia — engendered by his incarceration for murder, c'est la vie.

In another piece of miserable journalism, the Chicago Tribune’s overachieving Megan Crepeau embarked on a mission to assist Kim Foxx’s inglorious term as Cook County State’s Attorney. Penning a lengthy piece in July attempting to absolve Ms. Foxx of any responsibility for a legion of assistant state’s attorneys (ASA) running for the exit, Crepeau served as an echo chamber for Foxx by declaring the rash of resignations was a consequence of stress brought on by a backlog caused by COVID.

Acting as a shroud of mist protecting Foxx from readers’ prying eyes, Crepeau did her level best to deflect from Foxx’s staggering incompetence to make excuses — and they are excuses — by portraying the CCSAO’s staffing difficulties as a problem experienced by prosecutors across the nation. Though Crepeau did quote anonymous ASAs who bemoaned staff shortages, she did not cite a single unnamed CCSAO employee attributing blame to Foxx as the architect of any of the manifold problems afflicting the CCSAO.

While the possibility exists Crepeau has limited contacts inside Foxx’s office, that Crepeau could not locate and quote one, solitary ASA critical of the direction or philosophy under which Foxx has guided the office demonstrates Crepeau was on an urgent mission to perform damage control and face-saving for Foxx amid turmoil in the CCSAO. A member of a cadre of activist reporters in Chicago journalism aiming to protect Foxx, Crepeau achieved her front-line defense of Foxx primarily by eliding any inconvenient facts to guide the public toward an outcome she prefers and lauding Foxx as a figure of unparalleled bravery and poise who has acted decisively and courageously throughout her term in office.

In another instance of Crepeau ignoring Foxx’s blundering, when Foxx’s office dropped its objections to the issuance of certificates of innocence to two convicted killers, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, Crepeau, the Tribune’s presumed Cook County criminal courts reporter, remained silent. Foxx lifted opposition to Solache and Reyes’ pleas for certificates of innocence even though prosecutors in her office today maintain both men were guilty of a grisly double homicide and a third offender in the slayings, Adriana Mejia, remains behind bars for her role in the crime.

In addition to the fact Foxx's prosecutors publicly admitted both Solache and Reyes are guilty of the murder of Mariano and Jacinta Soto, Mejia has repeatedly testified both men served as accomplices in the crime. Though an avalanche of evidence implicates both Solache and Reyes, and Foxx initially opposed applications for certificates of innocence, Foxx’s quiet change of heart was too burdensome for Ms. Crepeau to mention in any further reporting.

Making her first appearance in Contrarian’s worst in media, Block Club’s Kelly Bauer took every opportunity in 2022 to embarrass herself in print and on social media. In May, following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Bauer frantically tweeted about the vexing problem of gun violence. The Queen Bee of Chicago journalism, Bauer, in a thinly veiled rebuke of Indiana, then proceeded to blame lax gun law in states surrounding Illinois.

In a follow-up tweet, Bauer then attempted to contrast the Uvalde mass shooting with Chicago’s intractable violence. Foolishly believing she is a revered figure in Chicago journalism, Bauer explained the source of Chicago’s violent crime is the failure of the city government to provide an adequate social safety net and too few career possibilities for those immersed in a life of crime.

Bauer continued to explain with overweening sanctimony that an aggravating circumstance of crime in Chicago is “rivalries & feuds exacerbated by gov't policies.” Though this passage was difficult to unravel, Contrarian’s hypothesis is Bauer intended to convey her sense the criminal justice system has far too many hard edges. An oddity we note in Ms. Bauer’s tweetstorm: The Queen Bee of Chicago journalism never uttered the word “gang” in her lecture of disapproval to her Twitter audience.

A tweet thread with virtually no original insights to share, Bauer’s chirping on Twitter was a perfect storm of stale liberal talking points combined with the mindless parroting of City Hall’s flimsy narratives on crime, and a full-throated endorsement for community-based, violence prevention programs. All of this was banal, predictable, at times ludicrous, and delivered with cant.

Perhaps what Ms. Bauer does not understand is gang members — even though the Queen Bee cannot bring herself to invoke the word “gang” — do not seek to become dependent on a social service net. Gang members consider moving drugs, murder, and the sale of firearms a form of employment. Drugs and guns are the trade gangs ply. Though this career choice is a frightfully dangerous craft, to gang members it is lucrative work.

Months after Bauer sermonized on Twitter, in an article published in Block Club, the do-it-yourself-journalism outfit at which Bauer serves as breaking news editor, the Queen Bee stung again with a piece on the Chicago Monuments Project’s recommendation on the fate of the Columbus statues. Adopting the fashionable language of victimization favored by social justice activists, Bauer referred to a rowdy band of Antifa and BLM activists who had defaced and attempted to topple Grant Park’s Columbus statue from its plinth as “protesters.”

Far from being righteous protesters, Antifa and BLM militants became violent, those involved were vandals, and the radical groups engaged in both the destruction of public property and assault of Chicago police officers keeping guard of the statue. Another example of Bauer’s undisguised bias, akin to her refusal to utter the forbidden word “gang,” Bauer, like most of Chicago media, downplayed violence at the Columbus statue and refused to use language which would dishonor a movement they consider virtuous.

In an October article again revealing her staggering bias, Bauer returned to one of Block Club’s preferred targets, the Chicago Police Department. Reporting on the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, an armed gang member, Bauer struggled to admit Toledo was carrying a gun, never acknowledged Toledo’s affiliation with a gang, and described Officer Stillman as “chasing” Toledo rather than confessing the armed Toledo was fleeing police pursuit.

Worse, but predictable from Bauer, the Queen Bee of Chicago journalism could only allege Toledo was armed. Though it has been an established fact Toledo was armed with a gun for well over a year — a fact the Civilian Office of Police Accountability recognized — Bauer applied the word “appears” to characterize Toledo’s actions prior to his death. Moreover, Bauer never mentions Toledo’s gun was recovered by CPD at the scene. Though Toledo’s death was tragic, in Bauer’s silly retelling, readers are led to believe a pugnacious cop terrorizing a minority neighborhood remorselessly gunned down an innocent, unarmed teen. This, however, is how Bauer rolls when covering Chicago law enforcement.

Though it was difficult to narrow down all the examples of rotten journalism and the authors in the Windy City over the last year, in a unanimous decision among contributors to Contrarian, the award for the worst journalist for all of 2022 in Chicago is conferred to Heidi “hellhole” Stevens.

A former entertainment writer for the Chicago Tribune who shifted to become a columnist, Stevens wrote the "Balancing Act" until her departure from the newspaper in 2021. There was little balance to Stevens’ act. Though her columns are political, they are narrow in range and demonstrate she never strayed far from entertainment writing. In 2022, Steven's mission issues were gay marriage, abortion, sex education, a holiday card campaign for LGBTQ people, and drag queens. When not staring at Lake Michigan for inspiration for her next column, Stevens often avails herself of her Twitter account to document her travels, capture alluring images of Chicago's skyline or upload photographs of herself as she presides over vacuous gabfests with the authors of dopey self-help books.

Chicago magazine was once the high temple of Chicago journalism. When the magazine experienced a shakeup in 2016 and Elizabeth Fenner was ousted as editor-in-chief, her replacement, Susanna Homan, signaled a near-total collapse in the monthly’s standards. Once a bastion of urbanity, Chicago recently fell into irretrievable ruin with Stevens' May feature article on the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) then-vice-president, Stacy Davis Gates.

A glossy, gag-worthy spread which more closely resembles fourth-rate “chick-lit” than compelling journalism, the timing of Steven’s article was purely political and intended give Davis Gates a badly needed makeover as she sought to replace Marxist zealot Jesse Sharkey as president of the CTU. For many people, the mention of Davis Gates conjures up images of villainous women. In the matter of Davis Gates, a toxic distillation of Miranda Priestly and Nurse Ratched enters the consciousness. A piece published just four weeks before the CTU election, Stevens set out to construct an image of Davis Gates as an exceptional leader, a social justice heroine, and latter-day Pericles.

However, like all propaganda, the article does have blinding flaws. To Stevens’ credit, she does quote a critic of Davis Gates, but instead of turning over stones and revealing the real Stacy Davis Gates to Chicago, Stevens stroked Davis Gates’ ego and failed to probe her on any of her shortcomings. Making an icon of Davis Gates — mainly by taking the story of a loser and injecting the subject with gravitas and a dash of glamor — Stevens carefully portrayed Davis Gates' growth to a leadership position at the CTU while concealing the vulgar, brass-knuckle fighter, her abject radicalism, and well-known despotic behavior.

Had Davis Gates been in the crosshairs of a serious journalist, penetrating questions would have been asked and perhaps answered. Stevens, for example, never queried Davis Gates over the CTU’s role in the low achievement of students enrolled in CPS schools, her part in transforming the CTU from a union into a fully-fledged political party or how she is renown for her obsession with accumulating power. Similarly, Stevens deftly avoided digging into Davis Gates’ involvement with United Working Families, a shady organ which distributes CTU cash to Democratic Socialist politicians. Most important, Stevens never quizzed Davis Gates over a rigged CTU election, which elevated her to union vice president.

To Stevens, Davis Gates-the-tyrant is not relevant. It is to be subsumed by the myth of Davis Gates-the-heroic-revolutionary, Davis Gates-the-fighter-for-social-justice, or simply Davis Gates-the-celebrity.

In sum, Chicago published a piece in which Stevens simply fangirled Stacy Davis Gates. Ultimately, Davis Gates had an election to win and both Stevens and Chicago were to play a role in the eventual victory. For Stevens, her role was unofficial Davis Gates campaign surrogate. Accepting the chore of messenger with glee, Stevens produced a piece of pure flummery, which concealed Davis Gates’ loutish persona and painted her as a woman with superhuman powers, and a meticulous administrator and tireless fighter who — utterly undaunted by criticism or long odds — never gives up.

For Chicago, its role was to deliver the message. In doing so, Chicago reduced it self to the rank of trashy supermarket tabloid and sacrificed objectivity in favor of political ideology.

Chicago Contrarian offers its thanks to all Chicago media figures for their distorted reporting in 2022. We are fully confident media will continue to bathe left-wing officeholders in soft coverage, bungle news stories, ignore others, and shrug at their errors.

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