Eric Zorn’s column on police shooting highlights latest clash between the local media and minority communities
In the latest example of how the Chicago media often bump heads with minority communities, Chicago Tribune opinion writer Eric Zorn published an article last Tuesday that generated a lot of heat.
The subject matter was the fatal police shooting of thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo on March 29 at 2:30 a.m. in the predominately Latino Little Village (South Lawndale) neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side. On Tuesday, Zorn wrote an article headlined “Let’s wait before turning 13-year Adam Toledo into a martyr”, urging the public to withhold judgement before all the facts were known. But a sentence in particular set a lot of readers off: “It’s not too early to stop romancing and infantilizing thirteen-year-olds”
Needless to say, all hell broke loose on social media – especially on Twitter – once the article was posted, with many accusing the liberal-minded Zorn of racism. Some colleagues at the paper weren’t happy with the piece but others in Chicago’s journalistic community defended Zorn, including Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg, and the Daily Southtown’s Ted Sloiak.
Zorn wrote a follow-up article on Thursday night, regretting the choice of words he used in your basic “non-apology” apology, regretting the tone he wrote in.
While Zorn is known as one of the more progressive columnists at the Tribune, many far-left Twitter users were angry at him, calling for his resignation, retirement, or firing.
Including a few colleagues of Zorn, a few had some thoughts on how the Chicago news media covers minority communities:
I’m feeling pretty ashamed & frustrated because there have been ongoing conversations in the newsroom about the harmful narratives that we have the power to feed and create about Black and brown people in our city.
My coworker’s opinion piece does not reflect our reporting.
— Laura N. Rodríguez Presa (@LAURA_N_ROD) April 8, 2021
Same question for Chicago media’s Friends of Eric Zorn society pic.twitter.com/3fDwkGchOj
— talk strange like Bjork, great hero Jim Thorpe (@joemacare) April 9, 2021
This piece has harmed and hurt the Black and Brown communities where reporters at the Tribune are trying to earn trust.
I personally see the take as callous, lacking empathy and based largely on unconfirmed information. We need to do better. Now.
— Elyssa Cherney (@ElyssaCherney) April 8, 2021
But it was these two tweets that hit the nail right on the head:
As a Black journalist, I've heard horrendous things about the culture of the Chicago Tribune. This column managed to anecdotally capture everything terrible thing I've ever heard about what it's like to be a person of color in that newsroom. https://t.co/9o4CDFGFE7
— erin b. logan (@erinblogan) April 8, 2021
Hard to see a future in media when every newsroom seems like a hostile environment for reporters of color
— Taylor Moore (@taylormooresays) April 9, 2021
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen questionable columns from the Tribune’s opinion writers: back in 2015, Kristen McQueary wrote a piece calling for a “Hurricane Katrina-like event” to hit Chicago. More recently, John Kass was criticized for a piece he wrote about crime in “Democratic-run cities” (basically every city), forcing the Tribune to move his column to the opinion pages. Kass and McQueary are considered far more conservative than Zorn.
Zorn’s piece further highlights the ongoing tensions between the local news media and residents from Black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, an issue going back decades but has been in the spotlight more since the murder of George Floyd. Last year, the local news media was criticized by many in the black community for their coverage of the looting that took place last summer in a half-assed article written in the Tribune. While conservatives’ mistrust of mainstream media outlets is always reported on, nothing is ever said of the same with minority communities and when it does, they often miss the point.
The George Floyd tragedy has shed light on the lack of diversity in the media business from local newsrooms all the way to Hollywood studios. Last week, ViacomCBS fired two CBS Television executives after a Los Angeles Times investigation found they participated in bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hiring and promoting Black journalists, including one making racist comments about a Philadelphia news anchor at KYW-TV (the duo also forced WBBM-TV’s GM Marty Wilke out and several female managers at the station.) And allegations of racism have been levied at several Tegna-owned stations, notably NBC affiliate KUSA in Denver.
Of course, it should also be noted Tribune Publishing is in a middle of a bidding war between a hedge fund and a team featuring a Swiss billionaire and a Maryland hotel magnate but as we all know, Wall Street is ignorant of what’s going on in the streets of Chicago and in other major cities and could care less.
Echoing a similar refrain from 2015 when LaQuan McDonald was killed by a Chicago cop, the city once again is waiting…and waiting on bodycam footage of the Adam Toledo shooting to be released publicly. While you can agree with Zorn on waiting for all the facts to be presented, you have to question him using wording that confuses anyone with even a 500 IQ. It’s no wonder “the mob” turned on Zorn and it came off as racist to many readers.
But Zorn was right about something: “It’s impossible to have anything like productive dialogue in the performative, rock-throwing environment of Twitter. I value the medium for many things, but it’s a lousy forum for debate,” as he told Newsweek. If there is one thing Twitter – and media has taught us, is it’s easier to argue than to have a meaningful productive conservation. And with Twitter, you can’t produce one in under 240 characters.