T Dog’s Think Tank: America is suffering from Chicago fatigue

The face of Chicago to some.

Non-Chicagoans tired of hearing about Chicago 

Will advertisers bail out of the Windy City because of negative media coverage?

During NHL All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, Chicago Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford were all booed by fans at the Staples Center.

Maybe because of the Kings’ rivalry with the Blackhawks? Keep in mind San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks players were booed, too – but the Chicago disrespect was louder – and more noticeable.

And NBA fans had to endure the ongoing saga involving the Bulls with Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and others, leading off SportsCenter and becoming a top topic on analysis shows.

Maybe it’s the word – Chicago – that has fans outside the Windy City all riled up. Because they’re sick of us. Chicago this, Chicago that, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. It’s too much, even for this Chicago native.

We’re everywhere – in the stands in opposing teams’ arenas (by the way, yours truly has no problem with this), on NBC’s prime-time lineup, and in the news cycle. As I noted in a Think Tank two years ago, Chicago has become the annoying houseguest who has overstayed their welcome and wished you just go home already and stay there. We are the Kimmy Gibbler of metropolitan areas.

And Chicago being in the “national spotlight” – which has now become an overused news cliche – isn’t going away anytime soon as the city’s murder epidemic continues to dominate the headlines. The crisis has even overshadowed the Chicago Cubs’ recent historic World Series victory, the only positive event coming out of Chicago recently.

Since becoming President, Donald Trump has slammed the city almost on a daily basis for its crime problem, trying to embarrass Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders. To conservative commentators and the media, Chicago has become a code word for “black people”, despite the city’s diversity and the market’s African-American population only ranking fourth in the country.

Two weeks ago, Trump has threatened to “send in the feds” if Chicago couldn’t control its crime problem. His statement was vague – best case scenario, federal funds to help fight crime. Worst-case scenario: The National Guard.

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on “60 Minutes” . (CBS/Sun-Times)

The “national spotlight” on the city’s crime epidemic has been non-stop and now is playing out in front of larger audiences. On January 1, the issue was featured on 60 Minutes with an interview with former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, drawing more than 10 million viewers. The city’s crime epidemic has been a nearly nightly focus on Fox News Channel’s prime-time news shows, which draws an average of four million viewers a night – more than The CW and even the Fox network itself. CNN aired eight-part series Chicagoland three years ago, further exposing more of the city’s ills. And Friday, MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes aired a town hall meeting in Chicago on the crime epidemic.

Even ESPN weighed in with a three-in-a-half-hour town hall meeting of its own, spanning two days last summer.

What’s next? Murder in Chicago: An E! Special Report?

And the topic is seeping into prime-time as there are now four – count ’em four Dick Wolf shows based in Chicago with his latest series, Chicago Justice debuting in March. And Fox is weighing in with APB, a series about a millionaire privatizing the police force in a crime-ridden section of Chicago.

And don’t forget, five years ago we had The Chicago Code, a crime drama praised by TV critics but buried by local cultural ones.

Why all the attention? For one, Emanuel is perhaps the best-known Mayor in America thanks to his ties to former President Obama, his adopted hometown – and of course, national exposure on Chicagoland. Can anyone name the mayors in Los Angeles, San Diego, or Dallas? I didn’t think so. And Chicago’s size (third-largest DMA) is also a reason. Smaller markets with crime problems don’t sell – you won’t see a national town hall meeting on Memphis’ homicide epidemic. President Trump knows this.

So what’s to make of all this? Let’s ask Detroit on how they handled a similar situation.

Back in 1990, ABC’s PrimeTime Live featured a story on the Motor City’s violent crime-infested image, featuring a foul-mouthed Mayor Coleman Young (you can view parts one and two here and here.) According to now-defunct trade magazine Electronic Media, Detroit’s ABC affiliate (Scripps-owned WXYZ) was sent an advanced copy of the show and station bosses were horrified at what they saw – using the same cliches over and over again about social ills in Detroit.

WXYZ asked for changes, but the network refused. The station also threatened to pre-empt the show but doing so would only “feed the story”, according to then-vice-president and general manager Thomas Griesdorn. After the special aired, WXYZ aired a discussion led by anchor Bill Bonds, allowing Detroit leaders to respond (you can view the special here.)

Days before the Primetime piece aired, then-CBS affiliate WJBK (owned at the time by Gillett Communications) refused to send coverage and a reporter to CBS News regarding Devil’s Night, the infamous arson spree that annually took place the night before Halloween. The dispute killed a planned segment on America Tonight, CBS’ short-lived attempt to compete with Nightline. Station officials and the network disagreed over the tone of the story.

It was nice to see Detroit’s news directors to stand up to their network brethren. But it won’t happen in Chicago because all the stations here are owned by the networks and run out of New York. Local management has no say in how network news magazines’ content is produced, and the owned-and-operated status of Chicago stations prevents news directors from speaking freely (oddly, WXYZ was owned by ABC until 1986, when the network merged with Capital Cities.)

The Electronic Media story also mentioned how the city’s poor image had an negative impact on national advertisers buying local time on stations, known as “spot” advertising. Despite ranking seventh at the time, Detroit fell behind the then-smaller Houston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. markets in revenues – all three have since passed Detroit in DMA rank. In 2009, St. Louis – another market plagued with image problems, fell behind Charlotte and San Antonio in the same category.

Will the same thing happen to Chicago? Is Lincoln Motor Company, IKEA, and American Express going to stop advertising here? Not likely, given the market’s national TV spot sales are still strong as millennials and businesses continue to move into the city (such as McDonald’s, United Airlines, MeadJohnson, and Caterpillar.) And Chicago’s northern suburbs and DuPage County is home to some of the wealthiest areas in the country.

However, Chicago radio revenue declined in recent years as more and more people move out of the area. And the continued negative media coverage could hamper future growth.

The one thing I said time and time again is maybe Chicago needs some time OUT of the national spotlight. But as long as Rahm is in office and Trump continues to slam the city every chance he gets, it won’t happen anytime soon (yeah, I know – I keep saying that.)

In other words – get used to the hate, Chicago. New York and Los Angeles can’t hog all of it.

(Updated 2017-03-30 at 9:48 p.m.)

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