Chicago’s Worst in Media 2023
Journalism crashed and burned this year
In many cities across the country, media outlets are seen as taking sides, often encouraging a polarized set of opinions. News media is also frequently criticized for refusing to call out lies, for deliberately holding back information, or creating a false equivalence of partisan opinions.
Nowhere in the country is media more guilty of creating news stories riddled with bias, errors, narrative setting, obscuring facts, and pack reporting than Chicago. With barely a day passing without one of more Chicago media organization exposing their liberal bias — whether it be the framing of a story or error — 2023 saw countless glaring examples in which members of Chicago’s mainstream press continued to expose their most cherished belief systems to the public in their news reports.
The view of undisguised media bias held by news consumers was not created in a vacuum. For years, at least, the idea of impartiality has been barely even a credible aspiration among Chicago journalists. The presumption journalists were capable of rising above their personal preferences in any context has been met by recurring, hollow laughter. In 2023, this was particularly evident in much of what Chicago media covered. Just as Contrarian has done in the past two years, contributors to this website have assembled a few examples of miserable journalism.
Chicago Tribune's Greg Pratt
In our retrospective survey of the liberal media landscape, it is probably best to begin with recognizing Tribune reporter Greg Pratt. A man widely recognized as one of Chicago’s most biased reporters, Pratt waded neck deep into controversy in 2023 with a GoFundMe campaign created for the benefit of his late father.
While Pratt denied any connection to the creation of the online fundraising campaign, a multitude of figures who reached into their purses to give alms to his late father raised eyebrows. In sum, nearly $1,800 was collected from some of Chicago’s most recognizable political figures, including three aldermen, the spouse of a member of the U.S. House, and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. As the story emerged, Pratt faced justifiable criticism for what appeared to be a clear conflict of interest.
While we sympathize with Pratt’s loss, in every step along the way the revelation the fundraising campaign for his father was a disaster for the Tribune reporter. Following a donation from Foxx, Pratt, who laughably became Gregory Royal Pratt in 2023, posted on X:
“Foxx is a trailblazer in national movement to elect reform prosecutors who emphasize need to change the criminal justice system and address its wrongs from within. She ushered in a new era of criminal justice where candidates talk about being smarter on crime, not just tougher.”
Though Foxx declined to accept questions after her announcement she would not seek a third term, in an astonishing development, Pratt managed to gain access for an exclusive interview with the departing Cook County prosecutor. A woman who is known only to grant interviews in which she is given some leeway for having to think on the fly, Pratt and company burnished Foxx’s record and portrayed her as a secular saint who freed humanity from the sanction of unjust laws and oppression.
Only one cog in a biased media machine, Pratt’s colleagues’ coverage of news across the city differed little than Pratt’s gentle treatment of Kim Foxx. An election year, Chicago media figures were agog with the notion of Brandon Johnson as mayor. Prior to Johnson taking office, media declined to dispute the mayor-elect’s characterization of three days of teen criminality downtown in April as “silly decisions.”
Since assuming office in May, reporters have consistently permitted Mayor Johnson to bulldoze reporters’ questions as “not being serious” on subjects over which he is deeply uncomfortable. In other instances, media has refused to hold Johnson to account on non-governmental lobbyists working from City Hall offices and let Johnson off the hook for skipping a Financial Forecast deadline and ducking Executive Order deadlines for emergency spending.
Only recently, media gave Mayor Johnson a reprieve for “discovering” $95 million between the sofa cushions to pay for housing for illegals without seeking the consent of the City Council. To Chicago media, warping of the news is not just a matter of slanting coverage, but deliberately avoiding covering the news at all.
As the final days of her disastrous term neared in May 2023, Mayor Lori Lightfoot received rather gentle treatment from the hands of Chicago media. Though her only historical significance as mayor was the first black, gay woman to preside over Chicago, journalists breathlessly covered the former mayor’s departure from office with the accolade given to a conquering Roman emperor. A profoundly negative force on Chicago, though Lightfoot should have exited ingloriously through a City Hall rear door, Chicago should be prepared for journalists to rehabilitate the former mayor with positive recollections fairly soon.
WTTW's Heather Cherone
Making her first appearance in Contrarian’s worst journalist list is WTTW’s Heather Cherone. The Lois Lane of Chicago media, Cherone is a fixture on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. A woman known for her persistent nodding and a voice which grates on the ear, Cherone cited People’s Fabric in a June article for WTTW’s website on candidates improperly using city property. When mentioning the worthless scrap, Cherone risibly described People’s Fabric as “anonymously run.”
Though the identities of those behind the Northwest Side progressive blog are one of the worst kept secrets in Chicago, just about every Jefferson Park resident is familiar with at least one person involved with People’s Fabric. Bearing in mind the heated and hyperbolic tone of the blog’s posts on X, many residents in the 45th Ward have concluded a failed ex-alderman of the 45th Ward administers the site. Common sense suggests as much.
While it is tempting to dismiss Cherone as a fabulist, a simpler explanation for her description of the People’s Fabric as “anonymously run” is Ms. Cherone fulfilling her obligations as a journalist by keeping sources confidential. While a key pillar of journalism is protecting sources — even if a “source” is well known — one can perform those functions without making a fool of oneself.
In other underreported news, both the Tribune and Sun-Times scarcely bothered to cover three days of violent wilding downtown between April 13-15.
WBEZ's Dan Mihalopoulos
WBEZ investigative “reporter” Dan Mihalopoulos spent part of 2023 obsessively seeking out Chicago police officers alleged to have ties to extremist groups. Though there is a mass of evidence Black Lives Matter and Antifa extremism prevails among the CORE caucus at the Chicago Teachers Union, Mihalopoulos is apparently interested in exposing only a certain kind of extremism.
In two separate instances in 2023, Chicago Public Schools pupils walks out of class over support for Gazans and school safety. Though students got the idea to protest from “somewhere,” Chicago media painted the political activity as student staking a principled stand, rather than students being recruited to the propaganda purposes of CORE educators.
Unsurprisingly, media coverage of the Chicago Police worsened in 2023. During a July 24 interview on Chicago Tonight on media coverage of public safety issues, host Paris Schutz assembled a panel with Northwestern University’s Charles Whitaker and former CBS anchorman, Derrick Blakely. Joining Whitaker and Blakely was The Triibe’s Morgan Elise Johnson, who declared the Chicago Police Department (CPD) an “anti-black institution.” Though nearly half the CPD is made up of minority members, Johnson’s absurd claim went unchallenged by Schutz or fellow panelists.
WBEZ's Chip Mitchell
Unsparing in their criticism of Chicago Police, media had a field day in July when a quartet of Tribune reporters learned of an alleged sexual misconduct scandal among officers serving in the CPD’s 10th District. Always primed and ready to pump out smears against Chicago Police, Chicago’s ideological media mob fervently covered the story and eagerly quoted critics of police as they protested in front of the 10th District. As details became known, though the allegations were vague, the accusations against officers were to have occurred with young adult women. This, of course, this did not hinder WBEZ’s sleazoid reporter Chip Mitchell from posting on X the charges included the “abuse” of migrants included “a child.”
Over the next two months, Chicago witnessed media at its worst: A daily, round-the-clock collective effort to promote the image of officers as depraved rapists, despite any substantive evidence any misconduct took place. So powerful was the media effort to defame police, around this story there formed a mass delusion which was accompanied by the widespread acceptance of fairly obvious falsehoods.
By late September, as the story began to unravel, media abruptly lost interest in reporting further into the phony rape story. After two months of constant scolding of police, COPA suspended the probe after it had concluded no victim or witness to any crime could be located. After COPA had failed once again to claim a police scalp, a dejected media reported the minimum, but was careful to give the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) a boost.
While the earliest reporting on the fictious rape story described COPA’s investigation initiated by a complaint lodged directly with police accountability office, subsequent reporting slyly doctored the impetus for the probe as a “text” among city employees. A fabrication, the evolution of the yarn about “police abuse” of migrants from an official complaint to a text over two months is most plausibly explained as Chicago media affording protection to its sources inside COPA.
Following COPA ending its probe in late September, curiosity over the story among Chicago media vanished into thin air. Hardly a surprise, though Chicago media was certainly miffed at COPA being forced to publicly admit the accused officers had not been engaged in any misconduct whatsoever, media had accomplished one goal: It had maligned CPD, once again, and in the most outrageous manner. Slinging mud is what Chicago media does best.
It was one year ago when Heidi “hellhole” Stevens was conferred Chicago’s worst journalist. Stevens took home the award for wretched journalism for a vomit-inducting, soft-focus profile of then-Chicago Teachers Union vice president, Stacy Davis Gates. A transparently political piece published in Chicago magazine just prior to CTU elections, the controversial teacher’s union head was in need of an image boost and Chicago was willing to oblige her in the attempt to pull Davis Gates across the finish line.
Over the past year, Stevens’ readers saw her horizons expand slightly from her 2022 mission issues of gay marriage, abortion, sex education, a holiday card campaign for LGBTQ people, and drag queens to include a hissy fit on book bans, a toy drive for the children of incarcerated children, and, at least on X, Leo High School.
A woman purportedly fond of Leo, Stevens has occasionally written columns to encourage donations to or shed light on the activities at the Auburn Gresham school. Despite her stated affection for Leo, in 2023 we learned the warmth Ms. Stevens has for the private school has severe limits. When in September Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly moved to dispose of the Invest in Kids Act, Stevens disappeared and did not spill one drop of digital ink in a column to urge lawmakers to save the law.
A piece of legislation which enabled 30 students to enroll at Leo — thereby saving students from CPS failure factories — fear of the law expiring inspired administrators at Leo to hold a rally at Saint Sabina Parish to plead with lawmakers to renew Invest in Kids. Stevens, again, vanished and did not devote a column to Leo students’ opposition to lawmakers gutting the law; later, Stevens ignored a protest attended by Leo students at Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Chicago office imploring for Pritzker to extend the life of the act. Evidently, Stevens’ interest in Leo is superficial.
Aside from an interest Leo High School when it suits her, Stevens emerged every so often to compose another dreary whine-a-thon about guns, but, oddly, fails to mention the hundreds killed on Chicago’s streets and disregards the routine mass shootings taking place in the city in which she lives. While avoiding the toll from gun violence among competing gangs in Chicago, Stevens, of course, prefers to capture the handsome quarters of Chicago on film — mainly the lakefront — and to upload them on X.
In 2023, however, Stevens dedicated several columns to, well, herself. Over the course of 2023, Stevens concentrated on her participation in the Chicago Marathon. In several articles prior to the October race, Ms. Stevens chronicled her training regimen, sat for a podcast, and often snapped photos of her morning runs — selfies included — for posting on X. Amid her non-stop talk about herself, Stevens, from time to time, did condescend to reveal part of her desire to enter the marathon was to raise funds for Lakeview non-profit, Nourishing Hope.
However, on October 8, marathon day — Stevens being Stevens — she took the extra step of applying tape to her running tank on which she plastered her first name. Refusing to run the race unnoticed, Stevens emblazoned her name on both the front and back of her top. An obnoxious and needless display, unless Stevens failed to remember her name, we can only hypothesize the marathon was not some challenge she set in front of her or an effort to raise money for charity, but rather a narcissistic attempt at self-promotion. What Stevens did was not offensive. It was, however, embarrassing, bearing a strong resemblance to watching one of Madonna’s bizarre on-stage bids for relevance. Bravo, Heidi.
Block Club's Kelly Bauer
Although it was difficult to place a crown on the head of Chicago’s worst journalist — there are so many potential contenders in the Windy City — Contrarian has coronated Kelly Bauer worst journalist for 2023. The Queen Bee of Chicago journalism, Bauer serves as a senior editor at do-it-yourself journalism outfit, Block Club. To earn the title of worst journalist, Bauer outstripped stiff competition among her colleagues in Chicago media with three miserable, biased articles in 2023.
In a March article, Bauer covered former First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter who was named interim superintendent of CPD following the resignation of David Brown. While explaining how Brown’s tenure unraveled, Bauer tearfully wrote of the plight of protesters being “stranded” after former Mayor Lori Lightfoot endorsed the action of raising bridges over the Chicago River in the attempt at riot control. The concoction of melodrama, Bauer obscenely lamented a strategy to prevent looters and rioters from gaining access to and further savaging the Magnificent Mile. Though Bauer did concede rioting and looting took place, she refused to define individuals responsible for wanton violence, rioting, and looting as criminals.
One month following her distorted version of the 2020 riots, Bauer cheered on Kim Foxx as the comically incompetent prosecutor announced she would not seek reelection in 2024. After gushing over Foxx’s criminal justice reforms, Bauer demonstrated she does not grasp the difference between reporting and opinion journalism. Defending Foxx’s manifestly failed policies, Bauer recalled criticism then-Superintendent David Brown directed at Foxx’s office for Cook County’s mollycoddling of violent criminals. Shifting from the role of “objective” reporter to opinion maker, Bauer insisted no evidence existed to demonstrate criminal justice reforms had led to an increase in violent crime. Bauer’s evidence, though, was highly problematic: She cited an unreliable study on bail reform conducted by Loyola University.
Continuing her losing streak for awful reporting, a May article describing the April 2023 fatal shooting of Reginald Clay Jr. by Chicago Police in West Garfield Park. Though presented as the work of reportage, Bauer’s work is a grotesquely slanted polemic against police. Guiding readers to her preferred narrative of police wrongdoing, Bauer declares the shooting as “controversial,” and appears to imply a cover-up was afoot by stating CPD has refused to comment on details — in particular why CPD approached Clay — of the incident.
Evidently, the Queen Bee of Chicago journalism is oblivious to the fact CPD constantly responds to calls of individuals with a gun and routinely have a description of the person sought.
For good measure, Bauer reminded readers of CPD pursuit policy and conjured up the memory of Adam Toledo, an armed 13-year-old apprentice gang member fatally shot in 2021. Note to Ms. Bauer: CPD pursuit policy was modified after the armed Toledo was shot by CPD.
Continuing with her lively retelling of events, Bauer explains the first two minutes of CPD bodycam contained no audio but did not mention the relevance. Bauer then described how Clay began walking away as police alighted from their vehicle and began to chase Clay. Though it was quite obvious why Clay began walking away from CPD — officers had an accurate description of Clay from the call of a man with a gun — Bauer declined to mention what was plainly evident and she failed to mention Clay’s acquaintances did not attempt flight.
Moving along with her recap, Bauer does provide a somewhat accurate account of the moment Clay was shot by police. However, Bauer’s summarization of the moment Clay was shot did not involve any mention of how Clay’s actions while holding his firearm — raising his arms while holding the weapon — justified the officer’s response. Bauer completed her “coverage” of the shooting with a gentle reminder Clay was the father of one and employed by Amazon to portray CPD as marauders who had recklessly gunned down a devoted dad.
Clay’s death was avoidable and the story surrounding his death was a simple tale of an armed man who fled and refused to obey lawful police commands. However, Ms. Bauer, as she has demonstrated numerous times before, was apparently committed to keeping her readers from learning anything from it. Worse, Bauer did not even pretend to be neutral when reporting on it.
Keep up the good work, Kelly.