Statehouse press corps objects to exclusive agreement with Trib

March 17, 2011
The Capitol Fax Blog reports that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn made an agreement with the Chicago Tribune granting it exclusive coverage of the historic signing of the Illinois Death Penalty Repeal. "This was a huge, momentous bill, perhaps the most important legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn will ever sign," the site said in a note to readers today. The hand-delivered letter to Quinn from the Illinois Statehouse press corps notes "we object strenuously to your decision to single out one particular news organization to witness and photograph the signing." As strange as it sounds, this battle between the press corps and the governor about a major newspaper gaining preferred access is important stuff. Imagine if the governor could always pick and choose. Why not choose the friendliest or most ignorant media in the state to report the news of his doings? Of what happens in a court house, the legislature or any of the government units that extend right here into our neighborhood? The  battle between the press and politicians cannot be underestimated by the readership of The Bulldog. We often seek the opinion of elected representatives of our Wards and legislative district and offices for answers. And we have often been frustrated by the contempt we find. We have found it difficult in some cases to get simple questions answered, such as the status of municipal construction projects from our alderman. In the election which just passed, the 47th Ward witnessed a contest between three men who sought public access and welcomed it and one man who depended on money to purchase the office. On election day he growled at a photographer for this site, snarling "I don't read that site." Overt hostility to the public, in the guise of the press worries us. We worry about our personal safety and the safety of our investment, including our home, as we put ourselves out there to answer questions on your behalf. But the battle between the press and the politicians happens in surprising places, too. Here is a recent discussion between Fox News show host Bill O'Reilly and News Host Chris Wallace about an ongoing feud between former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin and O'Reilly. Yes, it happens everywhere someone demands an answer and someone else wants to lay it on thick or avoid the question. Even in the Fox echo chamber. The Bulldog has expressed its anger directly to politicians it perceives as attempting to tilt the field towards a particular local publication by giving it access. That is unfair to you, our readers. When a politician refuses to answer a question, we can deal with it by noting that fact to you. When a politician attempts to use another local publication to advance their message by acing us out of press releases and press events, that is not acceptable to us. It shouldn't be acceptable to our competition either. Here are five examples of being stonewalled encountered in the past year by The Bulldog:
  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked for records related to Local School Councils for each of the Ravenswood schools.  Some schools never replied.
  • In April of last year The Bulldog asked the Chicago Public Schools to provide a list of candidates for LSC, including enough information to be able to identify the candidates address and other contact information. CPS refused, holding that the state FOIA law required it to refuse to give that information. Without that information we cannot contact LSC candidates except through the control of the principal. We cannot even identify whether Joe Smith, running for the LSC, is the Joe Smith the child molester or Joe Smith the patron saint of children.
  • The Bulldog has made a series of requests for planning documents related to Clark Park. Although Fran Spielman wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times about a multi-million dollar effort to build a little Wrigley Field west of Lane Stadium, no one, not the alderman, the City Planning Department, the Chicago Park District or the Chicago Public Schools could share any information about the plans for that plot of land. According to all the sources, no plans exist for that plot of vacant land.
  • The Bulldog has made a number of attempts to gain access to documents related to the city acquisition, for $1.4 million, of a plot of land in Lincoln Square. The efforts of The Bulldog did result in a sudden interest in the city in maintaining the land--- they cut the grass. And soon enough work began on the land to develop it into a community garden. However no documents relating to the long-term plan for the land has ever been produced by the Alderman or the city departments contacted.
  • The Bulldog asked Ald. Eugene Schulter to provide fax records and telephone records. As explained in our story that Schulter's chosen replacement as Alderman, Tom O'Donnell, was under investigation, Schulter hid behind a technicality in the law to refuse to give up the records. There was enough evidence to indicate, but not outright prove, the ward office used official resources for political purpose in the aldermanic campaign.
  • There have been other examples too. Salary reports, flooding, pollution, and huge government projects.
Clearly, this has been a challenging year for the politicians who are suddenly under the glare of being visible and for us as we push for answers. The Bulldog is grateful for the assistance provided to it in the past year by
  • First, with great humility, the public servants of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. We put them under pressure to help us with an important story and they came through. We are so proud of these public servants who helped us help you.
  • the Kent School of Law Center for Open Government,
  • the Online Media Legal Network of Harvard University's Berkman Center,
  • Executive Director Terry Norton of Kent,
  • Jennifer Klear, an attorney who works closely with us through OMLN.
We encourage you, our readers, to read the entire text of the Capitol Fax Blog post. We encourage you, our readers, to write to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to tell him this is not acceptable behavior. We encourage you, our readers, to follow-up with local politicians who attempt to evade our questions by demanding those politicians answer the questions put to them. This is Sunshine Week in the United States, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance to you, the readership, of open and transparent government and the freedom of information. There are broad efforts in this country to limit your ability to know information you need to make informed decisions. It happens right here in Ravenswood and continues all the way up the line to the highest levels of this democracy. It is your government. Demand answers. Tell politicians FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Open Meetings acts should be strengthened.  

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One Response to Statehouse press corps objects to exclusive agreement with Trib

  1. Patrick Boylan on March 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    As this was being posted, yet another example of politicians working to closely with SOME of the press: Arianna Huffington has cut a deal with Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker to develop the Patch Network in that city. Booker is reputed to be a former consort of Huffington.

    Read about it here.