T Dog’s Think Tank: Bashing the South Side

The last few topics I dealt with on the Think Tank involved Homer Simpson Jumping the Shark and Jim Belushi. Yikes. Now there’s some issues that really require some thought. But this piece is a lot more serious, given I live here. I may step on a few toes, but I’m kind of pissed, and this must be told.

It seems the media has issues with Chicago’s South Side, a place I’m proud to call home (until I move to L.A. and get this screenwriting career started – whenever that happens.) This part of town, as well as the south suburbs, and Northwest Indiana, doesn’t get any respect from the media elite. To Big Media, these areas are portrayed as “the ghetto” (even the middle-and upper-class areas), because the residents are majority African-American and Hispanic. It’s just another worn-out stereotype that’s been used since the 1950’s. Not even the Chicago White Sox’s 2005 World Series Championship has changed that.

It’s worst enough the local media only comes down here when there is an accident, shooting, murder investigations, and other mayhem. Now, the South Side is focus again, thanks to presidential candidate Barack Obama’s pastor making controversial remarks – remarks that were made several years ago.

As you know by now, the recently retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in the Washington Heights neighborhood – about 3 miles from where I live no less – made controversial comments regarding race and America back several years ago. A video of him making those comments recently turned up on various media outlets – and the video were played over and over again on those cable news channels – mainly because Obama is his pastor, and he’s running for president.

And predictably, some Chicagoans and others who don’t live here – are having a field day bashing the South Side and the African-Americans who do. All you have to do is look at the comments made on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

And that’s not all. Take a look at any crime story from the Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and click the comments section – they are filled with mostly racist dialog (recently, both the Sun-Times and Tribune have added “crime blotters” to their websites, officially cementing their papers as a joke.) In fact, just click on any story regarding the South Side – whether if it’s building a shopping center in a middle-class black neighborhood or some person making a positive difference – it’s the same thing.

And it’s not just limited to the Chicago papers. Last summer, yours truly clicked on a story regarding a Chicago White Sox-Cleveland Indians game on The Sporting News website – again, more racist bashing of the South Side, this time from Indians fans. A few weeks later on the same site, many suburban Detroit residents decided to take their turn (guess they got tired of bashing their own city.)

Oh no, it’s not just North Side Cub fans bashing the South Side anymore (at least they keep race out of it.) It seems to be the hip thing to do.

Stop. Just stop it. What the media doesn’t tell you (or won’t tell you) is that Chicago’s South Side is filled with hard working and decent people who are trying to get by day after day in this game we call life. Many have strong, solid family values – as well as faith that keep them going, even through the toughest of times. They work to make their community and the world – a better place.

But Big Media doesn’t care about that. The ministers of misinformation continue to stick it to minority communities, not only in Chicago, but across the country, by focusing on only the bad people who live there.

And of course, the simpletons lap it up. They rely on the misguided information the media puts out every day. Whether it’s the yuks on the cable news channels, the network newscasts, or the comedians on right-wing talk radio, it’s basically the same thing. They trust these people because they feel those guys know everything – which they usually don’t. These simpletons don’t have a mind of their own, anyway – they are always looking for someone to tell them what to do or what to think.

As for Trinity, the church does a lot of good things for people in the African-American community, such as AIDS awareness programs and canned food drives. Unfortunately, these actions don’t sell newspapers, generate web site hits, or boost TV ratings.

So the media focuses on Rev. Wright’s inflammatory comments because it sells. It’s no different than a box of laundry detergent. Of course the cable news networks were going to run the clip over and over again – there’s a hidden message the media wants to sink in to its audience. And we all know what that is. Racial harmony in this country? Nah, it won’t sell. Hate? Hell, yeah! Sign me up for a thousand boxes of that!

Sadly, race and politics packaged together sells in this country, much like a combo meal at Happy Burger. Instead of a honest dialog regarding both, we get a mish-mash of sound bites, partisan commentary, and heat and emotion from both sides of the debate. It’s something we know all too well in Chicago – all you have to do is look back at the awful media coverage of Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign 25 years ago – not to mention the racially divided “Council Wars” of that era. The local media profited from “Council Wars”, without providing any analysis or insight whatsoever.

The really sad part is, all of this reminds us how racially divided this nation still is. For example, a story on Girlfriends cancellation on BlackVoices.com a month or so ago featured commenters that were mostly divided among race – most African-Americans posters were mourning the death of the show (and blasting the networks for abandoning the African-American audience), while white posters were barely containing their glee. But apparently, having a voice of reason is too much to ask.

Of course, this is the agenda of Big Media – to incite and divide. This makes them more money – through higher ratings and increased web site hits. They don’t care about the South Side of Chicago – or anywhere else for that matter. News is basically entertainment nowadays anyway – there is really no difference between the content of Sun-Times, Fox News, TMZ.com, and the National Enquirer.

Residents from all over the city complained about this and more at last year’s FCC hearing at Operation PUSH. But some of the commissioners were so bored by all of this, they couldn’t keep their selfish heads up (particularly FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.) Many African-Americans and Hispanics complained about how the local media covers their neighborhoods, but the complaints fell on deaf ears, as usual. If the FCC doesn’t care, why should Big Media? (if the issue was indecency, I bet ya the FCC would wake up real quick!)

But at least there has been some improvement in the way the media handles urban issues. Last year, CNN and Anderson Cooper came to Chicago to try to get to the bottom of Chicago’s high violence rate, especially among young people. As some of you recall, 16 year-old Blair Holt was gunned down on a CTA bus in Washington Heights nearly a year ago. Cooper came to town and reported on how Chicago residents were coping with violence in their neighborhoods day after day and how they were determined on stopping it. The stories were well done and were fair and balanced (take that, Fox News.)

ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago aired a half-hour special last spring regarding violence in Chicago communities – in prime-access no less, pre-empting the popular Wheel of Fortune for one night. It featured a round-table discussion on the escalating youth homicide rate, and trying to find solutions to the problem (CBS affiliate WOIO-TV in Cleveland also aired a similar special last year, though in a town-hall setting.)

It’s a start, but more of this kind of coverage needs to take place in the media community, both of the local media level and the national media one.

Yours truly wonders if these controversies will hurt Chicago’s image. I addressed these issues in a think tank last May, regarding Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid and the behavior of its residents and its “stars”. A lot of people here, including yours truly, do not want to go back to the “Beirut on the Lake” days of the 1980’s, when Chicago’s racial divisions were wide out in the open for America to see. With race now front and center in the presidential campaign, are we headed down this path again, with America in tow? To answer this, here’s a quote from a Simpsons episode titled “Marge vs. the Monorail”, where in this scene, when the crowded Monorail train goes out of control, Homer (who’s the conductor) asks this question to his son, Bart:

Homer: Are we gonna die, son?

Bart: Yeah, but at least we’re going to take a lot of innocent people with us.

All aboard!